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Showdown Brewing Over Casino Project Spokane Tribe Says It Will Pull Out All The Stops To Stop Kalispel Plans For Airway Heights

Claiming it will devastate their own gambling resort, Spokane Tribe leaders said Tuesday they will “take all actions necessary” to stop a proposed Kalispel tribal casino in Airway Heights.

Those actions include lobbying Gov. Gary Locke to kill the proposal, seeking land near Spokane for their own casino and condemning U.S. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt.

“It’s nothing new,” said Dave Bonga, Kalispel development manager, of the Spokanes’ complaints. “I don’t really think it’s worth the effort to respond.”

The Kalispel Tribe wants to build a $17 million casino with 50 gaming tables, a 600-seat bingo hall and a restaurant on 40 acres near Airway Heights. The project would be financed by Carnival Hotels and Casinos of Miami. Profits from the casino would fund social programs for the tribe.

The proposal has been controversial from the outset because it would use trust land outside the Kalispels’ reservation near Usk, Wash. Under federal law, a tribe needs approval from the secretary of interior to build a casino on such land.

In mid-August, Babbitt signed off on the proposal and forwarded it to Locke, who has the final say in the matter. It will be November at the earliest before Locke makes a decision, said spokeswoman Helen Chung.

If built, the Kalispel casino would be in the middle of the Spokane Tribe’s customer base and “on the very highway that connects our market to our Resort and Casino at Two Rivers,” 24 miles north of Davenport, the Spokane Tribe said in a written statement.

The Spokanes also operate a casino and bingo hall in Chewelah, Wash.

“It would devastate us,” said David Wynecoop, secretary of the Spokane Tribal Business Council. Wynecoop and council members Alfred Peone and Greg Abrahamson gave the tribe’s written statement to The Spokesman-Review at a meeting Tuesday.

Babbitt ignored the Spokanes’ economic concerns and “had the audacity to deny the Spokane Tribe’s offer to hire economists to study the market,” the tribe contends.

However, Babbitt’s August letter to Locke indicates he did not overlook all economic considerations. The letter notes that the Spokanes have slot machines, but the Kalispels will not.

“The existence of table games in Airway Heights should have little impact on the Spokane slot revenue at its casinos,” Babbitt’s letter states.

However, should the Kalispels also get slots, or the Spokanes lose their slots, circumstances could change.

“There is no reliable way to predict the outcome of competition, but intense competition can be expected,” Babbitt’s letter states.

The Spokane Tribe is having an economic analysis done, which it will forward to Locke. The tribe plans to meet with the governor next week, but it’s doubtful the analysis will be done by then, Wynecoop said.

Aside from using an economic argument to lobby the governor, the Spokane Tribe is also threatening to open casinos in Spokane, and possibly Seattle, if the Kalispels’ plan proceeds. In Washington, every tribal casino but one is on reservation land.

To open a casino near Spokane, the tribe would have to go through the same process the Kalispels are involved in.

“That’s no real threat. They have the legal right to do that, they can go through the process,” Bonga said.

In its statement, the Spokane Tribe offered to help the Kalispels “make a gaming operation work on their reservation.” The statement goes on to contend the Kalispels broke a promise that they wouldn’t build a casino on the Airway Heights land.

“The Kalispel Tribe has not kept their word,” the statement reads.

“It’s not a truthful portrayal of what happened,” Bonga said.

Twice the Kalispel Tribe asked the Spokanes whether they wanted to participate in the Airway Heights casino and “twice they laughed and said they wanted no part of it,” Bonga said. , DataTimes

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