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Airway Heights Casino Gains In Early Betting Line City Officials Send Survey Along With Utility Bills; Surprised By Level Of Support

Thu., July 11, 1996

Half of the Airway Heights residents answering a survey say they support a gambling casino proposed by the Kalispel Tribe.

Facing strong feelings for and against the casino, city officials included the survey in utility bills.

The tribe, along with Carnival Hotel and Casino of Miami, plans to build a $17-million casino on 40 acres inside the city limits.

At a public meeting two weeks ago, more people spoke against the casino than in favor of it.

The tribe and Carnival need to get the approval of the Airway Heights City Council before seeking the state Gambling Commission’s formal blessing.

The five council members have not taken a public position on the casino, said City Administrator Mike Patterson. They’re likely to take a vote sometime before winter.

“That’s one reason we sent the questionnaire, so that we can get some feedback to help them make a decision,” he added.

The eight-question survey was sent to more than 700 residents and business owners in Airway Heights, about six miles northwest of Spokane.

“The support (in the survey) for the casino is higher than I expected to get, based on the opposition at the public meeting,” Patterson said.

The survey is far from scientific. Only 72 answers have come in so far, although city officials say residents have until July 15 to mail them in.

Thirty-six of the responses were favorable. About 44 percent - 32 - were opposed. Four others had no opinion.

City Council member Gail Coombs said she’ll use the results to help her make a decision when the council finally gets ready to vote on the proposal.

But she thinks more responses are needed to make the survey valid.

Coombs and fellow council members say they need more information on the casino’s pluses and minuses before voting.

A casino would clearly create jobs and revenue in the form of impact fees that Airway Heights could add to its budget.

Others suggest it will become a boon to Spokane County, helping attract visitors from around the state and Idaho.

The tribe’s proposal also includes later additions to the casino - a hotel complex, a restaurant, a housing center and a tribal culture center.

Critics say the casino would generate excessive traffic, an increase in city crime and problems for area businesses.

The survey gave respondents a chance to define what good or bad effects the casino would give Airway Heights.

One person wrote back, “it could help give Airway Heights an identity.”

One opponent sent back a letter citing some of her reasons for nixing the project: “Whatever happened to the oldfashioned work ethic. This (project) would cause Airway Heights to deteriorate.”

In addition to the Airway Heights council, Spokane city and county leaders will be asked their opinions.

Ultimately, the Airway Heights council vote will carry the most weight, Patterson said.

“I’m told the governor (who makes the final call on approving a tribal casino) would probably support this if they’re opposed but our council votes in favor,” said Patterson.

, DataTimes

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