Tribes gather to explore economic diversity

TULALIP — American Indian casinos brought in $26 billion last year alone, but what if those gaming halls were shut down?

That’s the question tribal leaders from around the Pacific Northwest will discuss at a conference taking place today and Friday on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

Tribal-owned casinos are only successful when economic conditions and political will allows them to be, said Gabriel Galanda, the Seattle lawyer organizing the event. It’s unlikely state and federal legislators will ever force the casinos to close, but tribal governments may not always reap the same profits, he said.

“There might be some policy made so that Indian gaming would no longer be as economically successful and perhaps no longer provide the number of jobs,” Galanda said.

Savvy tribal governments, such as the Tulalip Tribes, are diversifying now, he said.

Galanda pointed to the tribes’ new hotel, which held its grand opening this month, and its outlet mall. John McCoy, general manager of Quil Ceda Village, the Tulalip Tribe’s casino and mall complex, is among the speakers scheduled at the conference.

The 150 Indian leaders Galanda expects to attend the conference will also hear from leaders of Yakama Juice, a juice company owned by the Yakama Nation, and other tribal-owned companies.

It’s smart for tribes to diversify their businesses, but it’s unlikely that casino revenues will be at serious risk in the coming years, either from legislative changes or economic shifts, said Ron Allen, chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Association. Some tribes have suffered minor setbacks because of a slow economy, but it hasn’t been catastrophic, he said.

Entertainment-type businesses, such as the Tulalip Hotel and the Tulalip Amphitheatre are common among tribes that have diversified, but it’s unclear what the next big wave of tribal economic development will be, Galanda said. Tribes across the country have been experimenting in a range of ventures, including agriculture, wind energy and cigarette production.

About 150 tribal leaders from around the country’s western region, including Alaska and California, are expected to attend the conference.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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