Tucson Casino Cleared for Construction After President Biden Signs Pascua Tribal Act

By | January 2, 2023

Arizona’s Tucson area could soon become home to another Native American-owned casino after President Joe Biden signed legislation over the holidays that clears the way for the gaming project.

The Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s Deer Dancer statute stands outside the tribe’s administration offices in Tucson, Az. The Arizona tribe has been granted federal approval to build a tribal casino on land that was deemed sovereign through Congress and President Joe Biden. (Image: Arizona Public Media)

Arizona’s Pascua Yaqui Tribe received federal recognition in 1978. But the federal government’s acknowledgment of the tribal community’s origins and rooted ties to the Tucson area 45 years ago did not include a 40-acre parcel of land the tribe has owned since the 1920s. Known as Old Pascua, the land was donated to the tribe by several tribal families.

Old Pascua has been considered a sacred ceremonial site since, but the tribe recently sought the feds’ approval to deem the land as sovereign and place the property into the federal trust.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs typically handles land into trust matters, but changing presidential administrations and a pandemic have greatly held up the Pascua people’s wishes to have Old Pascua deemed sovereign. US Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) last year took matters into his own hands by introducing federal legislation that instructs the DOI’s Indian Affairs Bureau to take Old Pascual into trust for the benefit of the tribe immediately.

Biden Signs Old Pascua Act

Grijalva authored HR4881 — the “Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act.” The legislation, which garnered rare strong bipartisan support in both the US House and Senate, designates the tribes’ Old Pascua land as sovereign territory.

As such, the tribe is cleared to operate tribal gaming on the property under its Class III gaming compact in Arizona. The gaming contract has allowed the tribe to own and operate its Casino del Sol Resort and Casino of the Sun, both located southwest of downtown Tucson.

Old Pascua “means the area south of West Grant Road, east of Interstate 10, north of West Calle Adelanto, and west of North 15th Avenue,” the act designates. With Biden’s signature, the law requires that US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s office “accept and take into trust for the benefit of the Tribe” the designated land.

The Pascua tribal act is retroactive, meaning Old Pascua is now deemed to have been acquired and taken into trust on the same day the tribe was formally recognized by the US government — Sept. 18, 1978.

Biden signed the Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act on Dec. 27. The president said little after signing the legislation other than to thank Grijalva and his cosponsors “for their leadership.”

Former Movie Theater Targeted

Old Pascua as defined in the land acquisition act Biden signed includes the grounds of a former movie complex that the tribe purchased in 2011 for about $4.7 million. The former cinema is just off Interstate 10 — one of the busiest and most traveled highways in Arizona that spans the entire southern portion of the state from Mexico north before turning west towards Los Angeles.

Tucson officials in 2019 entered into an agreement with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in anticipation of the land being deemed sovereign and the tribe one day opening a casino on the grounds. The tribe has agreed to “payments in lieu of tax” with the Tucson City Council.

The tribe will share 2.6% of a casino’s retail sales, including alcohol, with the city. The city will also collect 2% of food sales and entertainment revenue, plus a $4 per day charge on each occupied guestroom.

Of course, a casino on the newly sovereign land is likely at least several years away from opening. The tribe has not yet unveiled specifics regarding the scope of the possible casino project.

The post Tucson Casino Cleared for Construction After President Biden Signs Pascua Tribal Act appeared first on Casino.org.

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