- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that federal law and a southern Arizona tribe’s gambling compact with the state allow the tribe to have a casino in a Phoenix suburb, despite arguments by state officials and two other tribes with casinos in the metro area.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling for the Tohono O’odham Nation in a lawsuit filed by the state, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Gila River Indian Community.

It’s not immediately clear what happens next in the yearslong dispute.

Because of the dispute, the Tohono O’odham opened its new Glendale-area casino last December with slot machine-style bingo machines but without table card games or actual slot machines.

The state and two tribes argued in their lawsuit and appeal that the 2002 compact implicitly barred the Tohono O’odham from having a Phoenix-area casino, but the 9th Circuit ruling said the wording of the compact resulting from “years of tedious negotiations” didn’t include a prohibition.

“We hold the parties to their words,” Judge Carlos Bea wrote for a three-judge panel.

The 9th Circuit also ruled that the federal law on Indian gambling casinos allowed the Tohono O’odham to build the casino on a site it acquired on unincorporated land adjacent to the city of Glendale because money for the land purchase came from the federal government in a land settlement.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, including on whether Arizona will appeal to the US. Supreme Court. The Gila River and Salt River communities called the ruling disappointing, adding they will explore their legal options and expressing hope Congress will act.

The ruling, Salt River President Delbert W. Ray said, “opens the door to additional Tohono O’odham casinos on county islands in other cities throughout the Phoenix area.”

The Tohono O’odham, headquartered in Sells west of Tucson, welcomed the 9th Circuit ruling and called on opponents of the Glendale-area casino to drop their “misguided challenges” so that the casino and resort can be expanded and provide more jobs.

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