Saturday, September 20, 2014

Last Resort

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As Glendale’s casino controversy draws to a close, West Valley residents put their cards on the table.

At 74, Jerry Williams is a human spark plug with a sailor’s bark and a gambler’s heart. The former newspaperman retired to Peoria from Southern California six years ago – plenty of time to develop strong opinions about the HBO-style political showdown unfolding between nearby Glendale and the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The Tohono O’odham want to build West Valley Resort, a 600-room resort-style casino on an incorporated 135-acre parcel of land near Glendale’s western border, and the government of Glendale is none too pleased.
 
But for Williams and other pro-casino partisans, the debate boils down to two factors: jobs and slots. “Why do they want to stop the jobs?” asks Williams, echoing the tribe’s claims that the casino will draw 1.2 million annual visitors and create 3,000 permanent jobs on-site. “The economy is lousy out here, and this would help a ton. Plus, it would be great for the wife and me. We hate to keep driving 50 or 60 miles to do a little gambling.”

Not everyone is so sanguine about the prospect of blackjack tables within walking distance of University of Phoenix Stadium and Westgate City Center. Led by Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs and Arizona Representative Trent Franks, the ongoing effort to derail the casino – comprising eight court battles so far, all resolved in the tribe’s favor – has left West Valley residents divided.
Casino advocates hold that the resort – planned for land southwest of 95th and Northern avenues – will help lift the prospects of Westgate and nearby retail entities. And it appears they need help. On a Thursday afternoon during the Valley’s busiest tourism season, Westgate – the 223-acre mixed-use home of the Phoenix Coyotes – resembles a post-apocalyptic Disneyland, with a couple dozen folks spread about a veritable ghost town of big-box restaurants. The development officially went into foreclosure last year.
 
“It can’t get any worse,” says Florin Horju, a Valley-based medical equipment professional entertaining colleagues at the near-empty Saddle Ranch. Voicing cautious support for the casino, Horju thinks about the project’s effect on home values but anticipates a positive net result. “Plus, I don’t want to have to go to Vegas to gamble and support their economy,” he says. “I want to support Glendale.”

Ana Scott also wants to support Glendale, but not with a casino across the street from Peoria’s Raymond E. Kellis High School, where her child will enroll as a freshman next year. “I like casinos and have fun when I go to Las Vegas, but that’s different because they’re in a designated area on the Strip,” Scott says, arguing that keeping a teen away from adult vices is difficult even without a casino putting them “right in your face.” Other Glendale-ites point out that the city would receive no tax revenue from the tribally-owned resort.

But unless the anti-casino lobby scores an 11th hour victory in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – where they hope to overturn a Department of Interior decision to let the Tohono O’odham claim reservation status on the West Valley parcel – construction could begin as early as this winter. The court heard arguments in April but had yet to rule as this issue went to press.

 

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