The Klamath Tribes will open Oregon’s seventh casino this weekend with hopes of regaining some of the prosperity they lost when the United States took away their reservation in 1954.
Tribal Vice Chairman Modesto Jimenez said proceeds would go into education, housing, health care and buildup of the tribes’ economic base.
Named for the Klamath and Modoc tribes and the Yahooskin band of Snake Indians, the $7 million KlaMo-Ya Casino will open Saturday evening.
The 16,000-square-foot metal building has 300 slot machines, six blackjack tables and four poker tables.
Inland Casino Corp. of La Jolla, Calif., has been hired to launch the casino and be a consultant for five years.
The casino is 22 miles north of Klamath Falls on a nine-acre site overlooking the Williamson River. The casino is located far from a major population base, but the tribes are counting on traffic on U.S. Highway 97 to provide gamblers.
The tribes plan to expand to a 50,000-square-foot casino in the next few years at a total cost of $12 million.
“Speaking as a tribal member, we have been waiting for this for so long,” said marketing director Jennifer Ochoa. “That it’s finally happening is unbelievable.”
Timber revenues made the Klamath Tribes one of the wealthiest Indian groups in the nation until 1954 when the U.S. government turned the reservation into the Winema National Forest, said Jimenez.
Many tribal members moved away, leaving about half of the 3,000 members living in the Chiloquin area north of Klamath Falls. Unemployment stood at about 50 percent among those who remained, Jimenez said.
The casino employs 238 people, 80 percent of whom are tribal members, and some people who had left the area are moving back, he said.
Overcoming the bitterness from losing their reservation, the tribes have been working in cooperation with Klamath County and the city of Klamath Falls, which will benefit from increased tourism.