ARLINGTON — The Stillaguamish Tribe had to fold its hand the first time it attempted to build a casino.
But the tribe never walked away from the idea, and like a patient card player, it has a new hand to play.
After months of soliciting and reviewing new investment proposals, the tribe has lined up a $19 million loan from Marshall Bank of Minneapolis to build a 22,000-square-foot casino on 20 acres of federal trust land the tribe owns a few miles northwest of Arlington.
Eddie Goodridge Jr., the tribe’s executive director, said making the financial and legal arrangements with the original investors, who backed out in May, was difficult.
"It’s a huge relief to finally be done because, really, the financing, that’s the hard part," Goodridge said. "Now the feeling of a lot more excitement comes in."
That excitement did not extend to the neighbors who opposed the casino.
"I’ve been dreading this day," said Ken Childress, one of the organizers of the opposition group No Dice. "The issue of Native American sovereignty has apparently won the day. All I can do is heartily hope that it fails."
Childress and many neighbors were upset when the tribe first acknowledged in November 2002 that it planned to build a casino on 35th Avenue NE. The residents said the rural area was an inappropriate location.
But the tribe chose the spot because the property’s trust status exempts it from local land-use regulations and permits.
The tribe pressed on, using $5 million of a loan that was to eventually total $36 million to raze its 30-home village and purchase new homes elsewhere for tribal families.
But the source of that money, a Detroit carpenters union, became a sticking point for the state Gambling Commission. The union’s trustees balked at state regulators’ insistence on criminal background checks.
Goodridge said the tribe specifically looked for a commercial bank this time around.
Bob Berg, deputy director of the Gambling Commission, has said in the past that his staff is not required to look at banks with such close scrutiny, as long as the bank is federally insured and regulated.
Berg could not be reached for comment, but a search of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Web site showed that Marshall Bank has been federally regulated since 1944.
Bank officials did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
One of the tribe’s consultants, Chuck Galford, vice president of Polaris Gaming Group of Portland, Ore., said Marshall Bank has loaned $590 million to American Indian casinos in the past 30 months, including the Kalispel Tribe near Spokane, the Yakama Tribe, the Chehalis Tribe, the Nooksack Tribe and the Siletz Tribe in Oregon.
The new 22,000-square-foot "Angel of the Winds" casino is substantially scaled back from last year’s 40,000-square-foot proposal. Galford said the new casino will have 425 video slot machines (the state maximum for the first year) and eight gaming tables. It will employ 350 people.
The design phase has only just begun, he said, so initial construction might not take place for another two months.
"We should have the grand opening in mid- to late fall," Galford said.
Goodridge said the tribe is starting out more modestly because of the $5 million debt it still has to pay to the original investors.
"The bank wanted to see something a little more conservative," Goodridge said.
The building will be designed for expansion, though. He said the tribe’s updated feasibility studies make him confident the local gaming market is not yet close to saturation.
"If the numbers hold true and there’s more market we can capture, there’s plenty of room for expansion," Goodridge said.
The tribe’s casino would be a couple of miles from I-5. The tribe would be open to moving the casino closer to I-5, and away from the rural neighborhood, if federal trust status can be negotiated for the new land, Goodridge said.
Last year, the No Dice group tried to find such a site in Smokey Point. But Childress said he gave up on the idea after getting chilly receptions there.
"People don’t really want it in Smokey Point," Childress said. "People in our neighborhood don’t want to be pariahs in our community."
No Dice spent all of its legal fund fighting the first proposal. Childress said the long delay gave many of his neighbors a false sense of security that the project would die.
Goodridge said he is disappointed that the neighbors have not accepted his offer to take the tribe’s place on a state committee that will recommend how impact funds should be spent.
Goodridge said the tribe has not decided whether to give annual payments directly to tribal members. Either way, he said the tribe is going to become self-sufficient and be able to fund projects for housing, education, health care and economic development.
The tribal leader has been the subject of heated criticism in recent months, including a thwarted internal push for his ouster. He said the criticism hurt, but didn’t change his mind.
"I was extremely determined," Goodridge said. "I didn’t let the internal political squabbles with the tribe, or the state or the county, deter me in any way. Because I’m convinced it’s the right thing for the tribe."
Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.