The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that puts the Tohono O’odham Nation a step closer to building a casino on land it owns near the City of Glendale, Arizona. Phoenix Business Journal reporter Mike Sunnucks provides an update on the ruling and the latest news about efforts to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale.
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Tohono O'odham nation's efforts to build a casino near Glendale got a big boost today from the ninth circuit court of appeals. The court agreed with a Lower court's ruling that says the Department of the interior should be allowed to take the land into trust for the tribe, a move that clears the way for reservation status, which clears the way for a casino. Joining me with more on the story is Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix business journal. Mike, you have been covering this story up, down, and sideways here. What was the ninth circuit actually looking at?
Mike Sunnucks: The validity of the law, whether the law was correct. Whether the unincorporated land that the tribe bought back in 2003, I think, fit under that law and whether they can take it into trust. And the tribe has won every single court battle against Glendale and the other tribes in the state. They are the rocky Marciano of this issue. And so it was the another win for the Tohono O'odham tribe and moves the 217 issue forward.
Ted Simons: There was an issue of state sovereignty, full, that the feds can't just come in and grant reservation status to what property a tribe purchases?
Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, that was their argument was, we have a state gaming exact, obviously, with all the tribes. And there was concern among Glendale and the other tribes what that does to that and does this oversee, oversee everything? City zoning, local zoning, state gaming rules? But the problem is there's a 1986 law on the books that they wrote specifically for this tribe because they lost some land down in southern Arizona, and said they could go in and buy unincorporated land in the Phoenix-Tucson areas or Pinnell County, and take that back. It was kind of a quid pro quo for them. That's what the courts have always looked at is that law.
Ted Simons: And they lost that land because of a Federal dam.
Mike Sunnucks: Yes.
Ted Simons: It was flooded. So go ahead, you can purchase, they went ahead and purchased under a corporate name which a lot of folks weren't even aware the tribe had bought this. A few years later we are going to build a casino here, all you know what breaks out.
Mike Sunnucks: Very secretive about how they bought that land, very upsetting to Glendale that doesn't like they won't offer sales tax to them. They did it under the dark of night so that doesn't get to the legal point of it. What they have done is the courts have ruled is legal. It's under that Federal '86 law sponsored by John McCain, and Goldwater, and so the tribe keeps going back to that and that's been the stalwart for them.
Ted Simons: The unincorporated land, the city was trying to figure unincorporated land was within the city boundaries?
Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. The way this kind of surrounded by Glendale, pore, Glendale tried to annex some of the land and didn't follow through on it. And so they tried to argue that, well, the spirit of this violates the spirit of law. It's really part of Glendale, even though it's not. The court, what part of unincorporated land don't you understand?
Ted Simons: I got you. Supreme Court likely on this?
Mike Sunnucks: The Gila river tribe says they are considering it. Glendale hasn't put a statement out. I think them this is all about money. The Tohono O'odham is not going anywhere. It's a build casino. They are going to stick around for as long as they need. The other tribes that opposed to have casinos. The more they can delay the better for them. Glendale is the one that really has to decide if they are willing to put more City money into that. They are been getting flak from the city. We keep losing. It's pretty obvious but I think you will see some kind of challenge.
Ted Simons: The toe homoo'odham tribe and Glendale another story here, the tribe could be involved with plans to buy the Phoenix coyotes here. What's going on?
Mike Sunnucks: There's been so many false starts, rumors related to the coyotes over the, it's been three years this has been going on and Greg Jamieson is trying to finalize a deal and there's been talk out there about who his par neither are, he's been very secret about who is involved. Ice head holdings, they could be involved with him. And there's been talk of whether the tribe comes in and has a sponsorship deal, some kind of partnership, those types of things. Some past bids had looked as tribes as a possible financial partner. Whether NHL goes for that, the tribe says, no, no, we are not involved with this. That speculation is still out there. We will kind of see, if this deal ever gets done, we will see his partners at some point.
Ted Simons: Indeed. It will be interesting to see if the NHL would allow a tribe with casino right across the way from the arena to go ahead and be part of ownership of a hockey team. That would be breaking new ground.
Mike Sunnucks: It absolutely would. Pro sports are very skeptical towards that in the first place. Casinos and gaming operations, so if this would ever happen with them or any other tribe it would be probably more creative type deal. You see Gila river, Salt River have big sponsorships with the teams here. And then so you could see something structured like that. It's still bringing money into the deal. One thing that we will see if this happens, people are saying it could happen this week with the deal but we have heard that so many times.
Ted Simons: It kind of has to happen, doesn't there? Isn't there some sort of labor situation with the NHL on the 15th?
Mike Sunnucks: Yes. The owners and players, their collective bargaining agreement will run out on the 15th. We face a lockout situation. The captain of the team is a free agent who says he has a deal in place once this sale gets through. So he want to get a deal done and he is going to Nike a deal with somebody before the lockout because once that happens, his pay could go way down so he want to make a deal within the next few days. So all these things are kind of coming together. Like a perfect storm. Plus Glendale is skittish with the arena deal because of the sales tax that they passed an increase. If that's reversed by voters in November, that jeopardizes their finances including their ability to follow through on this coyotes deal.
Ted Simons: As with, as offer is the case with this particular story, we wait to find out what happens because it's going to happen shortly.
Mike Sunnucks: Kicking the can a little farther down the road.
Ted Simons: All right, Mike. Good stuff. Thanks for joining us.
Mike Sunnucks:Reporter, Phoenix Business Journal;