And so it continues ...
The Tohono O'Odham Nation filed a lawsuit in federal court last week, asking for an injunction so that the tribe's $200 million casino, already well under construction in Glendale, can open on time in December. This was in response to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey's ordering of Department of Gaming Director Daniel Bergin to crap all over the legal process through which said casino must go in preparation for its opening.
(Ducey, who went to ASU and therefore can't possibly understand irony, has bragged about all of the state jobs he has eliminated, but is now paying somebody six figures to not do the job to which he was appointed.)
The oft-told back story is a relatively simple one. After rendering part of the Tohono Reservation uninhabitable with a dam project, the U.S. government told the tribe that it could buy another piece of land somewhere and add it to the reservation. The tribe bought some land in Glendale right near where the NFL's Arizona Cardinals play their games. They then set out to build a snazzy new casino on the site.
Not surprisingly, the other casino-owning tribes in the Valley of the Sun were not happy with the idea and they went out and lined up all of their Republican buddies to try to stop the new casino. Six-plus years of court cases have all come down in favor of the Tohono O'Odham. Now, in what can only be described as post-endgame, John McCain and a bunch of GOP congressmen are trying to get a bill through Congress to stop the casino, while Ducey takes this futile and petty action on the state level. It's just all so ridiculous.
No matter which side you're on, you have to admit that the Tohono O'Odham Nation, in getting the casino OK'd and built, has used the law and the courts to its benefit. How often in American history has that been the case?
Those who were here back in 2002 when the state gaming compact became law may remember that there was a frenzied opposition to the idea of Indian casinos in general, to casinos in Arizona more specifically, and to casinos in the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas most specifically. There were absolutists, who screamed about "gambling, right here in River City." And there were those who feared that gambling might attract the wrong crowd. (That's actually hilarious; those who have taken the time to drive a few miles from The Strip will find that Las Vegas is one of the Mormon-est towns in America.) Others were skeptical of the government getting its fair share of the sin tax associated with gambling. But mostly, it was a backlash against the uppity Indians, who had somehow found a way to make a buck off the crappy land onto which the white man had herded the Natives' ancestors.
It really was crazy back then. I mean, there were people who were afraid that there would be an Indian on every street corner, saying, "Hey Kid, you wanna' try this slot machine?"
Barely more than a decade later, the thought of American Indian casinos in metro areas is met with a cosmic shrug. They're part of the landscape and so what? It's like anything else that the hyper-moralist may rail against, but the rest of us just consider a matter of different strokes. Some people drink, some don't. Some people smoke, some don't. Some people gamble, some don't. Of those who don't gamble, for some it's a matter of religion or self-defined morality. For others it financial, and then there are people like me who don't gamble because we understand mathematics.
If you'll pardon the gambling analogy, the Tohono O'Odham hold all the cards in this showdown. The federal court has sided with the Nation virtually every step of the way during this long, drawn-out (and unnecessary) battle. The State of Arizona is merely throwing good money after bad in continuing this fight. And the important thing here is that all of the good money and bad money is your money and my money. Untold millions of dollars are flowing right down a lawyer sinkhole fighting a battle that never should have been waged in the first place and—it bears repeating one more time—has been settled in court several times over.
Here's probably the most important thing of all: Even if Ducey gets his lackey Bergin to delay the opening of the casino, the Nation's lawyers can just walk into court, holding in hand all of the rulings that have come down in their favor, and ask the court to compel the government to pay the Nation all of the money that would have been generated by the casino had it been allowed to open on schedule. Conservative estimates use the "b" word—as in billions.
The federal government sometimes pays farmers not to grow corn. Do we really want to be on the hook for billions of dollars because Ducey and his buddies got outsmarted by a bunch of backwater folks from down Tucson way?
McCain, Ducey and others have accused the Nation of a pattern of fraud, concealment and misrepresentation. A Western governor and a bunch of guys from the federal government accusing an Indian tribe of not being honest and trustworthy. That's absolutely priceless.