Second Tulalip casino moves ahead

By Susanna Ray

Herald Writer

The odds of finding an open table to play blackjack or feed the slots in Snohomish County could double by this time next year.

Two legislative committees met Monday and found nothing to complain about with the Tulalip Tribes’ new agreement with the state Gambling Commission that will likely allow them to increase the number of casinos from one to two and the number of total gaming tables from 50 to 125.

When the Tulalips’ new, second casino debuts in March 2003, it will also probably be allowed to stay open longer —156 hours a week instead of the current 140, plus an extra four hours three times a year.

State legislators aren’t allowed to vote on changes to tribal compacts, but they can review them and make comments to the governor, who has to sign the agreement before it’s sent to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for final approval, which could come as early as July. The chairs of the two committees said after the meeting that they had no issues to bring up with Gov. Gary Locke.

He’s likely to sign the deal, since it mirrors changes to the Muckleshoots’ gaming compact approved earlier this year, said Dick Van Wagenen, a policy adviser to Locke.

The walls are already up and the roof is about to go on the Tulalips’ new $72 million casino, being built about two miles north of the old one on the reservation near Marysville, said John McCoy, the tribes’ governmental affairs director.

Tribal officials had planned to move all the electronic slot machines to the new building and use the old casino for bingo, McCoy said. But after the Muckleshoots negotiated their deal for a second casino, the Tulalips decided they’d rather use the new building as an addition rather than a replacement, he said. The Puyallup Tribe is also following the Muckleshoots’ lead.

Whether or not there’s a big enough gambling market in Snohomish County to support two neighboring casinos is "a problem we have to address," McCoy acknowledged.

Right now, the Tulalips aren’t even using the full number of gaming tables they’re allowed. There are only 38 tables for roulette, blackjack, poker and other games, McCoy said, because "when we had 50, we had empty tables and staff standing around."

Instead, they put in more electronic slot machines, he said, although the old casino only has room for about 1,000 machines, whereas tribes are allowed to have up to 1,500 per casino.

McCoy said he wasn’t sure if the tribes will expand up to the new limits, but "we’ve built a building that will allow for the maximum number of tables and the maximum number of machines."

The hours of operation will go to the limit, however. Right now, the casino is closed from 6 to 10 a.m. every day. Once the new compact goes into effect, it will likely stay open round the clock on weekends and holidays, McCoy said.

You can call Herald Writer Susanna Ray at 425-339-3439

or send e-mail to ray@heraldnet.com.

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