Washington Governor Approves Spokane Tribe’s Casino

Governor Jay Inslee (l.) of Washington has approved the off-reservation casino proposed by the Spokane Indian tribe, calling the $400 million the Spokane Tribe Economic Project – STEP. The project will create thousands of jobs and generate millions in revenue for the state, he said.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has approved of an off-reservation casino for the Spokane Indian Tribe. The tribe wants to build a 0 million casino, a project that the tribe calls the Spokane Tribe Economic Project – STEP.

In announcing his acquiescence in putting land into trust for the tribe the governor said that the casino project would create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in taxes for the state.

Besides putting the land into trust, the Department of the Interior has also designated the land as a “Promise Zone” to boost economic prosperity for the 3,000 members of the tribe. A quarter of the tribe’s members are unemployed. More than a third are under the federal poverty line.

The tribe hopes that the casino project will create 5,000 jobs and a $66 million annual payroll as well as create a college tuition fund as well as mitigate environmental issues on tribal lands.

Because the land the tribe has acquired is off of its reservation, the approval to put into trust required a “two-part” approval, where the governor’s approval was integral to process.

Spokane Tribal Chairman Carol Evans told fellow members of receiving the call from the governor telling her of his decision.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” she said. “We’re thankful. We’re a good people. And now we can move forward to provide for the needs of our tribal people. We can move forward to employ members of this community. We can move forward to create jobs for the community. We’re excited, we’re partners and we can always be friends of this land and of you.”

She added, “Gaming isn’t the end all, but it provides the means to provide for our people. This will help with some of those issues.”

When fully realized, perhaps ten years from now, the 145-acre project will include a casino resort, dining, bars, a tribal cultural center, police and fire, retail shopping and a spa.

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart hailed the project and the $4.7 million it will generate in taxes for the state, county and municipalities. He told the Spokesman-Review: “This is a momentous day for our region, the state of Washington and, most importantly, the Spokane Tribe. I know it will leave a lasting legacy not only for our community, but it will also lift people out of poverty in our entire region.”

There is still plenty of opposition to the casino from downtown businesses in Spokane, the leaders of Spokane County and the Kalispel Tribe, owner of the nearby Northern Quest Casino.

Opponents say that the project’s proximity to Fairchild Air Force Base is problematic and might lead to the base being closed or moved. The base is an important factor in the region’s economy.

Todd Mielke, chief executive officer of the Greater Spokane Incorporated chamber of commerce, commented, “This is something we already have in this community. It’s not a speculative project that may or may not occur in the future. That’s what we have today.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, while not opposing the casino, is worried about its effect on the Air Force base. She said in a statement last week, “While I support the Spokane Tribe’s desire for economic development, I’ve always believed that the potential impact of the project’s location on Fairchild Air Force Base should be the primary factor in determining whether to allow it to move forward.”

The worry is that the casino appears to be right in the base’s flight path.

Stuckart insists that opponents are reaching for reasons to oppose the project. “People get jealous,” he said. “They make up reasons to oppose projects. I think there are three county commissioners right downtown, along with our economic development arm, holding a press conference talking about how they are actually opposed to economic development in our region. That’s not their role. Their role is to support economic development in our region.”

He noted that a former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Terry Yonkers, who reviewed the casino proposal several years ago, had said that the casino was an “insignificant disruption to the mission.”

Inslee addressed this issue, saying that he had met this year with Air Force General Mark Welsh and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Miranda Ballentine and was that the casino project would not interfere with Fairchild’s current operations, or negatively impact future Air Force citing decisions.”

While acknowledging that the Spokane tribe’s casino would create competition for the Kalispel tribe’s Northern Quest Casino, the governor pointed out that that casino had created competition for the small casino that the Spokane Tribe had had on its reservation.

Kalispel Tribal spokesman April Pierre, said the tribe was “deeply disappointed” and added, “The STEP development will harm the Kalispel Tribe and our ability to provide essential services to our members. While we support the Spokane Tribe’s goal to create more economic opportunity for its members, we cannot support a strategy that comes at such a high cost to our own people and so clearly does not meet the narrow criteria required by federal gaming law.”

The Kalispel Tribe’s casino was the first off-reservation casino to be approved in Washington. The Spokane tribe’s is the second.

Its proposal dates back to 2006, when the Spokane Tribe first began working with local governments to assemble revenue sharing agreements.

The Spokane County Commission is currently opposed to the project, although initially it was neutral. In 2010 two commissioners pushed for an agreement with the tribe and the city of Airway Heights to share revenues from the casino project. In 2013 the council voted to withdraw from that agreement.

Airway Heights, which will receive $600,000 the casino’s first year of operation and an additional $100,000 annually thereafter, has supported the casino from the beginning.