On Monday efforts to pass a contentious and heavily lobbied bill fell short when the house failed to put through HR 308, a measure that would prevent an Arizona tribe from building a casino on their land in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.
Since its proposal in 2009 the local battle among other area tribes has been ongoing and costly with tribes and the state spending millions on federal lobbying efforts and lawsuits attempting to stop a casino that could generate hundreds of millions for the Tohono O’odham Nation. Had the bill passed several court rulings, mostly favoring the tribe, would have been circumvented and the tribe would have been prevented from opening their Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Resort on their reservation land just outside Glendale. The tribe, which has been under attack by the state and several other area tribes that have nearby casinos of their own, would keep their land, but would not be able to operate the casino on it until 2027 at the earliest.
HR 308, also known as the “Keep the Promise Act,” failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority required to advance under the fast-track process in the 263-146 vote. On October 23 House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled the controversial and expensive bill from the House suspension calendar. The bill was brought to the floor by House GOP leaders under a fast-track process, which is typically reserved for inexpensive and noncontroversial measures. The bill’s inclusion in the process was protested by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva who said the precedent-making legislation was just the opposite of inexpensive and noncontroversial and had no business on the suspension calendar. Some estimate that the nation’s budget would take a $1 billion hit if HR 308 were to ever pass.
In a dispute that has fired up Arizonians, the bill is intended to settle the debate over promises allegedly made by the federally recognized Tohono O’odham Nation. Casino opponents, most notably the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Gila River Indian Community, both tribes with competing casinos, say the casino violates promises made to Arizona voters in 2002 by the Tohono O’odham that it would not be building a casino in the Phoenix area. In recent years the two competing casinos have spent in excess of $14 million on lobbyists to oppose the casino. No such promise was made, according to the Tohono O’odham, an assertion that has mostly been backed by the more than dozen court battles won by the tribe. Generally, federal law permits casinos on reservation land, and if HR 308 ever passes and becomes law it would have serious ramifications for Congress, according to Rep. Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Supporters of the bill are doubtful that the Tohono O’odham would prevail in a court fight, and that uncertainty precludes the House Budget Committee from assigning a budget score to the measure. While the Congressional Budget office said the tribe has made their intent to sue the federal government clear if the bill passes, it did not indicate whether the tribe would be successful in such litigation.