Nation/World

Casino Plan Has Many Foes As Governor Ponders Issue, Comments Run 2-1 Against Airway Heights Proposal

The future of a proposed $17 million casino near Spokane would be doomed if it hinged solely on the public opinion registered with Gov. Gary Locke.

The governor’s office has received more than 200 comments on the Kalispel Tribe of Indians’ proposal to build a casino in Airway Heights since the plan was made public in June 1996.

Roughly 65 percent of the recorded comments on the casino proposal urge its rejection. And that doesn’t include a 1,583-signature petition from opponents. The governor has set no deadline on receiving citizen input.

Locke must approve the proposal before the tribe can negotiate a gambling compact with the state. The proposal has already been approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Airway Heights City Council.

The governor is currently reviewing casino-related material, said spokeswoman Marylou Flynn.

“He’s in the middle of that right now, but I can’t give you a date when he’ll wrap that up,” Flynn said.

The comments range from typed letters to barely legible postcards to e-mails and phone messages left on a citizen’s hot line.

The target of all this is a 55,000-square-foot casino and restaurant. Initially, the casino would be authorized for 30 roulette, blackjack or craps tables and a 600-seat bingo hall. It would be built in partnership with Miami-based Carnival Hotels and Casinos.

The Kalispels say they want to build the casino to finance the Camas Institute, a non-profit education and job-training center for Indians and non-Indians. With little in the way of natural resources, the tribe’s 4,600-acre reservation near Usk offers few economic opportunities for its 240 members, tribal leaders say.

Casino supporters key in on those points.

“This casino opportunity represents for the tribe a unique opportunity to do that which attackers often invite: get a job,” wrote David Harding, vice president of Summit Property Development, which developed the Airway Business Center on Highway 2.

Calling the casino “another major economic force,” Harding’s letter is representative of nearly all those written in support of the proposal. The letters claim the casino will either be good for the local economy, good for the tribe, or both.

Opponents attack the casino on several fronts. They see it devastating the local economy by turning local wages into gambling wagers and attracting crime. Restaurant and hotel owners worry the tribe will undercut prices.

The Kalispels dispute those points as well as the claim that their casino - located 50 miles from their traditional reservation - would set a precedent to allow other “off-reservation” tribal casinos. Current law requires tribal casinos to be on reservations.

There would be no precedent, they say, because few tribes would want to repeat the arduous bureaucratic process of getting newly acquired land approved for Indian gambling. Additionally, few tribes can match the unique economic predicament the Kalispels face, tribal leaders say.

Predicament or not, the casino proposal has attracted plenty of critics. Among the largest group is nonprofit organizations that run - or ran - bingo halls for income.

Competition from surrounding tribal casinos has closed several bingo halls and cut into the revenues of others, the leaders of these nonprofits argue. The Kalispels’ casino would be the final blow.

“If approved, the precedent set would lead to the demise of charitable nonprofit bingo,” wrote Von Graf, executive director of the Spokane Youth Sports Association.

Other opponents include church pastors, hotel and restaurant owners and anti-gambling activists.

Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelley is one of the most prolific casino opponents, having written four letters.

“Casinos pay mediocre wages, do not create any products and siphon money from those who can least afford to lose it,” Roskelley wrote.

On the other side is Harry Sladich, acting president of Gonzaga University.

“We support the Kalispels’ project because, in the long run, the educational and social service contributions to the community will be of great significance,” Sladich wrote in reference to the Camas Institute.

Gonzaga has agreed to co-sponsor classes offered by the institute.

Another letter supporting the casino for economic reasons was signed by eight elected officials from Airway Heights, Medical Lake, Millwood and Spokane. A group of 13 business people, calling itself the Airway Heights Expanding and Developing Committee, also supports the casino.

Of the 214 letters, e-mails or phone messages Locke’s office has to consider, 36 were collected before he took office. In the fall of 1996, then-Gov. Mike Lowry directed the Washington State Gambling Commission to test public sentiment on the casino proposal.

Letters and other documents from that period are being examined by Locke’s staff as well as objections filed by the Spokane Tribe of Indians, which fears a casino at Airway Heights would devastate their Two Rivers Casino at Fort Spokane.

Finally, there are volumes of material from the U.S. Department of Interior.

Fortunately for Locke, much of the material will be grouped and summarized for him.

“That’s staff’s job: to read and review for the governor,” Flynn said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of proposed casino area

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: HOW TO COMMENT Citizens wishing to comment about the casino proposal to Gov. Gary Locke can call 360-902-4111, or fax 360-753-4110. E-mail can be sent through the governor’s web site at www.wa.gov/governor/contact/ govemail.htm. Regular mail can be sent to: Gov. Gary Locke, Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 40002, Olympia 98504-0002.

Here are some of the supporters and opponents who have sent letters or e-mails, or called the governor’s office or the Washington State Gambling Commission about the Kalispel Tribe’s proposed Airway Heights casino: SUPPORTERS Ron Allen, president, National Congress of American Indians, Washington, D.C. Jeff Colliton, Spokane City Councilman Stuart Fricke, Arikara-Sioux tribal member from Grandview, Wash. Leann Purtill, president, Airway Sand & Gravel, Airway Heights Jerry Flood, chairman, Economic Development Committee of Medical Lake Chamber of Commerce Patrick Curry, president, National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development; member, Blackfeet Tribe of Montana Janet Dilber, branch manager, Inland Northwest Bank, Airway Heights Mark Wakefield, owner, Wakefield Auto Parts & Sales, Spokane Kerry Lynch, president, Alliance Pacific public relations firm, Spokane Tom Flynn, president, Spokane Labor Council.

OPPONENTS John Talbott, Spokane mayor (signed petition) Betty Berge, vice president, Main Street Bar and Grill, Puyallup, Wash. Geneva Nash Ward, owner, Sportsman Cafe & Lounge, Spokane Karen Montecucco, owner, Silver Lanes, Spokane Shirley and Jack Williams, owners, Charley’s Grill and Spirits, Spokane Spokane Hotel-Motel Association Slade Gorton, U.S. senator John Shaffer, pastor, Manito United Methodist Church, Spokane Stuart Ellison, president, Spokane Restaurant and Hospitality Association Northwest Amateur Hockey Association (operates bingo hall) Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association (operates bingo hall).

This sidebar appeared with the story: HOW TO COMMENT Citizens wishing to comment about the casino proposal to Gov. Gary Locke can call 360-902-4111, or fax 360-753-4110. E-mail can be sent through the governor’s web site at www.wa.gov/governor/contact/ govemail.htm. Regular mail can be sent to: Gov. Gary Locke, Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 40002, Olympia 98504-0002.

Here are some of the supporters and opponents who have sent letters or e-mails, or called the governor’s office or the Washington State Gambling Commission about the Kalispel Tribe’s proposed Airway Heights casino: SUPPORTERS Ron Allen, president, National Congress of American Indians, Washington, D.C. Jeff Colliton, Spokane City Councilman Stuart Fricke, Arikara-Sioux tribal member from Grandview, Wash. Leann Purtill, president, Airway Sand & Gravel, Airway Heights Jerry Flood, chairman, Economic Development Committee of Medical Lake Chamber of Commerce Patrick Curry, president, National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development; member, Blackfeet Tribe of Montana Janet Dilber, branch manager, Inland Northwest Bank, Airway Heights Mark Wakefield, owner, Wakefield Auto Parts & Sales, Spokane Kerry Lynch, president, Alliance Pacific public relations firm, Spokane Tom Flynn, president, Spokane Labor Council.

OPPONENTS John Talbott, Spokane mayor (signed petition) Betty Berge, vice president, Main Street Bar and Grill, Puyallup, Wash. Geneva Nash Ward, owner, Sportsman Cafe & Lounge, Spokane Karen Montecucco, owner, Silver Lanes, Spokane Shirley and Jack Williams, owners, Charley’s Grill and Spirits, Spokane Spokane Hotel-Motel Association Slade Gorton, U.S. senator John Shaffer, pastor, Manito United Methodist Church, Spokane Stuart Ellison, president, Spokane Restaurant and Hospitality Association Northwest Amateur Hockey Association (operates bingo hall) Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association (operates bingo hall).



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