SEATTLE — The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is opening its new $510 million casino this week, an effort years in the making.
While Cowlitz officials hope the Ilani Casino Resort will draw about 4.5 million visitors a year, providing an economic boon to the tribe and the region, others are not so optimistic.
The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde own the Spirit Mountain Casino in Oregon’s Coast Range, and they fear Spirit Mountain could lose 41 percent of its revenue when the Cowlitz casino opens Monday near La Center.
Cowlitz Tribal Chairman William Iyall told the Seattle Times that opening day is a victory for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. “This is a triumphant moment for The Cowlitz Indian Tribe because it marks the end of a 160-year journey back to our homeland, and the beginning of a new journey,” Iyall said.
In 1855, Cowlitz tribal leaders refused to sign a treaty and move into a proposed reservation site. Over time, members of the tribe scattered, and it took decades of campaigning to persuade the federal Interior Department in 2000 to grant the Cowlitz legal status as a tribe.
Five years ago, opponents of the proposed casino challenged an Interior Department decision to designate 152 acres west of La Center as a tribal reservation. That reservation designation cleared the way for gambling to take place.
Clark County was one of the opponents, raising several concerns in court including worries that the casino would harm an area set aside for agriculture. Card-room owners in La Center and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde also initially opposed the project over concerns about competition.
But last summer the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected their arguments, finding that the Interior Department had reasonably interpreted federal law in recognizing the Cowlitz tribe and designating the property as a reservation. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case earlier this month.
The casino complex is expected to employ about 1,500 people. The gambling operation will take up about 100,000 square feet of the building, with 2,500 slot machines and 75 table games. The complex also includes 15 shops, restaurants and bars, and later this year a 2,500-seat concert hall and convention center is scheduled to open. Plans call for a hotel to be built in coming years.
“We have had a lot of engagement from Seattle residents who seem to be excited about our opening, so we are interested to see who comes,” said Kara Fox-LaRose, president of Ilani.