The tiny Kalispel Tribe’s bid to open a $17 million Airway Heights casino is giving at least one other tribe ideas.
How about a casino in downtown Spokane? It’s not that far-fetched, an attorney for the Spokane Tribe said Wednesday.
“My expectation is we would give it serious consideration,” said Scott Crowell of Kirkland, Wash.
The tribe would work with the city of Spokane and its planning and zoning people to discuss where a potential casino could go, Crowell said.
After all, if the Kalispels’ casino is approved, Crowell said, “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
“It would be difficult to give their blessing to this tribe and not to the others. It’s a real can of worms.”
The Spokanes operate slot machines in their reservation and trust-land casinos. Crowell said the Kalispels’ casino wouldn’t pose a competitive threat unless it, too, offered slots.
The Spokanes’ Nevada-style gambling is opposed by the state but continues under court protection while the tribe and state battle in federal court.
The Kalispels, meanwhile, have a mountain of red tape to move before they can open a fancy casino on the West Plains.
The Airway Heights City Council narrowly approved the project Tuesday night. The tribe still faces an arduous six-step approval process involving both the state and federal governments before it may proceed.
If approved, the casino is expected to spark proposals for similar Indian gambling projects in and around Spokane. Carrie Tellefson of the state gambling commission said the Kalispels’ proposal has the potential to be precedent-setting.
If the Airway Heights casino is approved, the door would be opened for other tribes to buy land anywhere, deed it into trust, and seek permission to set up gambling operations.
“If it’s looking good, you can bet every other tribe will be saying the same thing,” Tellefson said.
The state has never before approved a gambling compact for a casino on trust land purchased after 1988.
The approval process starts with the U.S. secretary of interior, who can veto the project or refer it to Washington’s governor for consideration. The governor has absolute veto power over the project.
That puts the Airway Heights project smack in the middle of the 1996 gubernatorial elections.
It’s unlikely that the issue would come before Gov. Mike Lowry, who leaves office at the end of his term in January. Lowry has taken no position on the proposal, according to his spokesman, Jordan Dey.
If the governor doesn’t kill the proposal, it goes next to the gambling commission, for negotiation of a compact regulating all aspects of the casino with the tribe.
Then the governor would have the right to sign the agreement or send it back for more work. The process could easily drag on for months and months.
Some Spokane city and county officials have already given their nod to the casino proposal in the form of individual letters, some quite lukewarm.
“I have mixed emotions about it,” said County Commissioner Steve Hasson. “There is always the specter or fear of mob infiltration. But on the other hand, I support ventures that improve things for Native Americans.”
Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty said the project could be a plus for the area. “Overall, given the nature of the jobs and economic impact, I think it would be a good thing.”
Geraghty acknowleged the casino would bleed money from non-profit organizations that depend on bingo for money, but said, “That’s just kind of a fact of life.”
Don Kaufman of Big Brothers and Sisters of Spokane County said the casino would have a devastating impact on his organization’s budget. Revenues are already $300,000 or so off from previous years, Kaufman said, “and that’s without another bingo hall in my back yard.”
Laura Stensgar , marketing director of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s bingo hall in Worley, Idaho, said the Kalispel venture would definitely be competition.
“But that is what business is all about. We support their efforts,” she said.
The Coeur d’Alenes operate a 1,100 seat bingo hall that’s open on weekends and 300 video pull-tab machines that are open 24 hours, seven days a week.
The Kalispels have proposed a building with 30 gaming tables, a 600-seat bingo hall and a restaurant on 40 acres of land 6 miles northwest of Spokane purchased by the tribe three years ago. The tribe also plans to use the land for a cultural center and job training facility.
The tribe, with just 238 members, is based in Usk, Wash.
Since they have little money of their own, the Kalispels want to build the casino with money loaned by its partner, Miami-based Carnival Hotels and Casinos.
Casino opponents said it will increase crime and drain city services.
Tellefson of the gambling commission said Washington has the most closely regulated tribal casinos in the country, and for that reason the state’s 10 tribal casinos have remained clean.
“We’ve seen very little to no problems,” she said. “You probably see more problems in a new supermall.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? These steps must be taken before a casino can be built in Airway Heights: U.S. secretary of the interior determines whether the casino is in the best interest of the tribe and the surrounding community. There is no time limit for this review. If approved, the proposal goes before Washington’s governor. The governor can veto it outright. Or the governor may forward the proposal to the state Gambling Commission for further review. The director of the Gambling Commission negotiates a compact governing operation of the casino with the tribe. The agreement includes limits on hours of operation, games that can be played, number of gaming tables, surveillance of the games and cash flow and jurisdiction for police enforcement. The compacts typically direct 2 percent of gambling proceeds after payment of winnings to local jurisdictions. The compact goes to the Gambling Commission for approval and simultaneously to the state Legislature for comment. The commission’s vote must take place within 45 days. Commissioners can approve the compact or send it back to the director for further negotiation. If the compact is approved, it goes to the governor, who may sign it, or the compact may be sent back to the commission for further negotiation. If approved, the compact is sent back to the secretary of the interior for final ratification. If no action is taken in 45 days, the compact automatically is approved. Source: Washington State Gambling Commission