Audio: SCIA takes up bill to bar Tohono O'odham Nation casino

Artist's rendering of the proposed West Valley Resort. Image from Tohono O'odham Nation

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held an emotional hearing this afternoon on S.2670, the Keep the Promise Act.

The drama began early when Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs said he was "nervous" to testify because the issue was so controversial. It continued when he sparred repeatedly with Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the author of the bill, over the proposed Tohono O'odham Nation off-reservation casino near Phoenix.

At one point, McCain accused Washburn of giving "smart aleck" responses to his questions. The pair also debated whether or not the Tohono O'odham Nation can be considered "impoverished" when the tribe operates three gaming facilities.

After some back and forth, McCain finally declared: "I don't have any more questions for this witness." But he later interjected when Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the chairman of the committee, started asking Washburn questions.

McCain's bill bars all forms of Class II or Class III gaming on any lands acquired in trust in the metro Phoenix area after April 9, 2013. It doesn't mention any tribes by name but it was written to prevent the Tohono O'odham Nation from using its land for the $500 million West Valley Resort.

The tribe reached an agreement with the nearby city of Glendale to cover services to the casino and address any impacts. But the project remains controversial and Mayor Jerry Weiers was forced to explain at the outset of his testimony that his views do not represent the city's "official" stance.

Gary Sherwood, a city council member, provided the official stance in support of the casino and the jobs and revenue it will generate. He said other developers have already approached the city with their own projects due to the anticipated benefits of the casino.

Gregory Mendoza, the governor of the Gila River Indian Community, spoke in opposition to the project. He said the Tohono O'odham Nation broke a promise not to open a casino in the metro Phoenix area although the courts have ruled the Class III gaming compact does not include such a prohibition.

The hearing lasted about 1 hour and 7 minutes. Audio can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.

Committee Notice:
Legislative Hearing on S. 2670, Keep the Promise Act of 2014 (September 17, 2014)

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