A federal judge recently issued a ruling that’s another win for the proposed Glendale Casino. The judge said that Arizona’s gaming compact does not ban more casinos from opening in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier of the law firm Snell and Wilmer will talk about the latest ruling.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. A federal judge last month ruled that Arizona's gaming compact does not prohibit more tribal casinos from opening in the Phoenix metropolitan area. That's good news for the Tohono O'Odham tribe and its plans for a casino near Glendale. Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier of the law firm Snell & Wilmer is here to help us make sense of this new ruling. What exactly did the judge rule?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: The decision back in May left two claims alone that he felt needed additional briefing on. Those specific questions were does the restatement of contracts, a statutory legal thing, apply when a party's understanding of the contract is not reasonable. And then secondly, which representatives of the state should we look to, to decide what the State understood when the compact was entered into. Should they look to the intent of the governor, voters or somebody else? Those two issues were sent back to the parties to brief. That's what he then looked at and reviewed in this most recent decision.
Ted Simons: Let's start with the idea of what was understood by this gaming contract. What does the gaming compact say regarding new casinos?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: Well, that's what the judge -- that's basically the crux of the whole issue of the lawsuit, is what does that compact -- which is 67 pages long, 20 sections, an in-depth legal document -- and that was part of the what the judge was commenting on was, this compact was negotiated for a long time by some very smart people. And I don't see anywhere in this document that says that there will be no more new casinos in the Phoenix area. And that's kind of what it boils down to is, where in the compact does it specifically say there would be no more casinos in the Phoenix area for the Tohono O'Odham tribe. The state and the other plaintiffs argued that, well, there's other evidence out there. There is understandings that the state had, understandings that the Tohono O'Odham tribe had. They knew when they were entering into this contract they were implicitly agreeing there would not be any new casinos in the Phoenix area. They were a tribe in Tucson.
Ted Simons: Is the judge basically saying implicit is one thing, but I don't see it here in the compact?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: In this most recent ruling he looked at those two discrete issues. The most important things he determined was, I understand there may be best evidence of what the tribe may have understood, what the state may have understood. He looked at the four corners of the contract and Arizona law, which has a very liberal interpretation of how you interpret, letting in other evidence that's not in the four corners of the contract. And even notwithstanding that liberal interpretation, he said this is an integrated contract. What that means that is all of the important terms are contained in the four corners of this contract. Therefore it really doesn't matter what other understandings may have been separate and apart from this contract.
Ted Simons: With the idea being that, because the contract is so firm and it's all right there, if you didn't understand, where were you?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: Why didn't you put it in there. Exactly. There was a lot of discussion in the briefing about, well, you know, the Tohono O'Odham truly knew that they wanted to have this casino, but yet they didn't bring that up during the discussions. And so, you know, the judge really did a very thorough examination. He looked at all of this extrinsic evidence. At the end of the day he said, you know what, this contract stands on its own and it's not a reasonable interpretation to say otherwise.
Ted Simons: It cannot reasonably be read to include such a ban, period. The second part is, who was supposed to do the understanding?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: That's kind of a secondary issue, even though that was one of the issues briefed. In the judge's final analysis, it really didn't matter whose understanding was, because he said that a separate oral agreement separate and apart from this integrated agreement really is not reasonable to include in my analysis.
Ted Simons: If the governor thought this, the voters may have thought that, a couple of lawmakers thought this, everyone's thinking all over the place. But the contract says X, Y and Z. Doesn't matter what these other people are thinking?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: That's how the judge pretty much came down with his ruling.
Ted Simons: What happens from here on this?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: I haven't heard specifically but I would assume that the plaintiffs, the state and the other tribes are contemplating appeal. If they do appeal, the next stop for appealing would be to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. So they file a notice of appeal and go through that process. Depending on how that comes out, it could ultimately be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Ted Simons: The basis of the appeal would be similar to their argument in this particular case, and that is we understood X but didn't get it in the contract?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: Well, it would be their entire -- this case now is done. They had a lot of claims in the case. The judge entered summary judgment on every single claim now. If they are going to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, I would assume they are going to look back at the claims and determine the most powerful, and put their best case forward. Obviously they have to get through this judge's analysis, which is pretty solid.
Ted Simons: Now, as far as -- I know Glendale's had this effort to annex land. That is in court, as well. Where does that stand?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: Well, that lawsuit was sent back to the secretary of the interior who had made a decision -- it was either earlier this year or last year, about taking the land in a trust, saying that it did qualify under the federal statute that's applicable here. But they want the secretary -- the judge in that case wants the secretary to take another look at it and determine whether or not, because this land is surrounded by the City of Glendale on three sides, whether that somehow takes it out of the category for qualifying. You know, so the secretary is going to have to reexamine that issue, and make another decision in terms of whether the land should be taken in a trust, or maybe the secretary may make a totally different decision.
Ted Simons: Right now the city is enjoined and blocked from annex, the land and the tribe is blocked from annexing the trust until this is figured out. Don't we have county islands all over the place?
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: I would suspect we do.
Ted Simons: From a distance it sounds somewhat similar. We'll see how the interior department does on that one. Thanks for your help in explaining all this. Thank you.
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier: Good to see you, thank you.
Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier:Snell & Wilmer L.L.P.;