Judge sides with tribe on Glendale casino plan

PHOENIX - A plan to build a Las Vegas-style casino outside Phoenix doesn't violate Arizona gambling laws approved by voters, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell's 28-page ruling sided with the Tohono O'odham Nation against the state in the latest setback for critics of the proposed casino that could transform suburban Phoenix. Campbell also called for further evidence from both sides by May 22. At question is whether the tribe hid its intent to build a new casino before voters approved the state's gambling compact in 2002.

"No reasonable reading of the compact could lead a person to conclude that it prohibited new casinos in the Phoenix area," Campbell ruled.

Arizona and the Gila River Indian Community filed the suit in 2011 to stop the casino, saying it violates zoning and state laws and would disrupt residential neighborhoods near downtown Phoenix.

Gila River Indian Community officials said Tuesday they were disappointed by the ruling. They urged Congress to take steps to block the casino.

"Rest assured, we will continue to do everything in our power to fight this illegal, off-reservation casino in the midst of a Glendale neighborhood," the statement said.

A spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the state will gather the information requested by the court and move forward from there.

The Tohono O'odham Nation unveiled its plans for the massive resort and casino about 160 miles from its existing reservation in 2009. The property was purchased after the 30,000-member tribe received a $30 million federal settlement to replace nearly 10,000 acres of ancestral reservation land damaged by a dam. The federal government declared the land a reservation in 2010 despite opposition from state and local officials who argued tribes shouldn't be allowed to turn any piece of property into a reservation.

Local officials claim the casino will require them to beef up fire, police and other civic requirements in an area not equipped to accommodate a resort better suited for the Las Vegas Strip. A high school is located a few blocks from where the casino is to be erected, which is about a mile from a retail and entertainment district where Phoenix's professional football and hockey teams play their home games.

The suburban property is in an unincorporated island of Maricopa County and bordered on three sides by the city of Glendale, which is adjacent to Phoenix. About 30,000 people live within two miles.

Federal lawmakers have also tried to block the casino to no avail.

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