Gila Community’s new casino plan sparks neighbors’ concerns - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Gila Community’s new casino plan sparks neighbors’ concerns

July 23rd, 2021 development
Gila Community’s new casino plan sparks neighbors’ concerns

By Paul Maryniak

Executive Editor

The Gila River Indian Community’s announcement of plans to build a fourth casino has sparked concerns among some south Chandler homeowners about possible traffic problems.

The community earlier this month announced that the new casino will be built on tribal land south of the intersection of Gilbert Road and the Hunt Highway and will take about two years to build.

The announcement triggered calls to the city and social media chatter about the need for road infrastructure improvements in the area.

But if roads are improved, there appears to be one certainty: Chandler won’t be paying for any.

Community Governor Stephen Lewis said the new casino “will bring additional revenue, security, and critical services to Community members. In addition, we anticipate being able to add hundreds of new jobs that Community members can take advantage of, and we expect that many of those will be filled by Community members, just as was the case at the Vee Quiva Casino.”

The GRIC announcement had few details about the casino plan, but Chandler city Councilman OD Harris told the SanTan Sun News, “What I am hearing is 580 acres of land to be developed into a world-class casino, golf course and a hotel with spa amenities.”

And Harris added, “We are still working on learning the details of their master plan. The Native nation have been keeping things close to chest.”

Those vague plans mean the new casino could be on par with the Wild Horse Pass complex in its current form. But that complex could undergo a radical expansion as the tribe is working to create a 3,300-acre sports and entertainment complex that could rival the Talking Stick Entertainment District just south of Scottsdale. The first step toward that expansion was the construction this year of the new stadium for the Phoenix Rising soccer team.

The project lead, Sunbelt Holdings of Scottsdale is working with the tribe’s development arm, Wild Horse Pass Development Authority, to build additional hotels, wellness and event centers, an outdoor amphitheater for concerts, sports facilities, outdoor recreation and parks, restaurants, retail establishments and an office park.

Sunbelt Holdings President John Graham told the SanTan Sun News the development, located just south of the Loop 202-I-10 intersection, will fill a “missing corner” of the East Valley in terms of entertainment.

Meanwhile, the future south Chandler casino also would join two other GRIC casinos, Lone Butte and the relatively new Vee Quiva.

The new casino comes with recent approval of a new gaming compact between Arizona’s Native American tribes and the state.

“The Community gave up its fourth Casino in the 2002 Gaming Compact, based on the promise that there would be no new casinos in the Phoenix Metro Area,” The Gila River Indian Community said in its announcement. “That promise was broken, as you know, and we fought hard to ensure that we could reclaim our right to build a fourth Casino as part of these recent negotiations.”

The Gila River Indian Community covers 372,000 acres and is home to the indigenous O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) people.

Harris took to Facebook earlier this month in an effort to soothe some residents’ rattled nerves – and also provide a dose of reality.

“The City of Chandler respects the sovereignty of the Gila River Indian Community and wants our residents to recognize that the city has no jurisdiction over the Gila River Indian Community or its casino enterprises,” Harris wrote.

“We don’t know the proximity of the casino to the existing intersection, but tribal officials have described it as comparable in size to the Vee Quiva property near Loop 202 and 51st Avenue,” he added, telling residents:

“While the City of Chandler will not be involved in the review or approval of the Gila River Indian Community development, we will communicate residents’ concerns and share plans for city infrastructure so tribal officials can make informed decisions regarding the development of the site.  Chandler has no current plans to expand Gilbert Road and Hunt Highway, but we know that traffic impacts are one of the concerns expressed by residents.

“We will coordinate with the Gila River Indian Community, as we would with any new development, to address improvements that may be necessary to roadways owned by the City. As we obtain more information about the project, we will share it with Chandler neighborhoods and residents near the site.”

The GRIC arm-twisted the Arizona Department of Transportation two years ago to build a special interchange on the South Mountain Freeway for the Vee Quiva Casino, purportedly in return for allowing the state to widen the I-10 through reservation land down to Casa Grande.

That South Mountain Freeway interchange is an elaborate skein of ramps that will allow access to and from future development around that casino.

The community’s announcement of a fourth casino also comes as sports bettering edges closer to a reality in Arizona.

Gov. Doug Ducey agreed to the new gaming compact and formally approved sports wagering earlier this year.

While sports books were expected to launch Sept. 9, a report by , a new site that monitors the world of sports betting, said that launch date was in jeopardy because the Arizona Department of Gaming did not publish proposed sports betting and daily fantasy sports regulations as planned on June 15.

“The ADG shared little information about the delay, but multiple stakeholders told Sports Handle that Gov. Doug Ducey’s office sent the regulations back with more questions and comments than expected,” the website reported. “Now, rather than publish the proposed rules and immediately open them for public comment, the ADG will make revisions and open the draft rules for stakeholder comment before opening a public-comment period.”

It also quoted an Arizona gaming official as saying, “ADG is on track to meet the targeted ‘go live’ date of September 9th for event wagering in the state. That said, the Department is finalizing details for draft event wagering/fantasy sports rules to ensure completeness and accuracy, which will be available for public viewing and comment as soon as this process is complete.”

Sept. 9 marks the start of the NFL season. noted that the U.S. Department of the Interior has already approved the state-tribal Class III gaming compact, clearing one hurdle to sports betting in Arizona.

“But the ADG has not yet released information about the application process, which means potential operators have not been able to apply yet,” the website said of Arizona.

The state department has up to 60 days to approve or deny a license application and noted that July 11 is the last day that an application could be submitted to the state for review and be approved in time for a sports book to launch in Arizona on Sept. 9.

“Given the current delay in rolling out proposed rules, the timeline is getting tight,” the website noted.

That July 11 date doesn’t leave any wiggle room between license approval and a live start for sports betting because of the 60-day approval time needed for license applications, the website said.

Arizona’s new law allows for statewide mobile and retail sports betting. Up to 10 commercial venues and 10 tribal casinos can be licensed for both digital and retail wagering, while an additional brick-and-mortar wagering-only licenses are available for horse racetracks and OTBs. So far, Caesars (Arizona Diamondbacks), DraftKings (TPC Scottsdale), and FanDuel (Phoenix Suns) have market access. Caesars also partners with the Ak-Chin Casino via its Harrah’s brand, which the tribe plans to extend to sports wagering.

In addition, BetMGM is rumored to be on the verge of a licensing deal with the Gila River Indian Community.

“Though it’s not official yet, BetMGM would be able to offer online sports betting services to users throughout the state in addition to providing retail options for patrons of the three Gila River Casinos located in Wild Horse Pass, Lone Butte, and Vee Quiva,” reported last week. “It’s an ideal partner for BetMGM as the tribe and its retail casinos are well positioned within the state, with a great presence in the Phoenix area.”

Jill Dorson, who has been covering Arizona’s sports betting closely, reported in her latest article on SportsHandle: “When online sports betting goes live in Arizona, it might not look the way some stakeholders thought it would. While tribal interests believe they’ll be able to offer digital wagering in their casinos and on their reservations, the latest compact amendment doesn’t clearly allow for mobile wagering on a reservation outside of a casino building, and state regulators say they will geofence tribal lands, meaning that digital platforms from outside of a reservation will not be available within the boundaries of a reservation.”