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Casino banks on expansion

Sat., June 13, 2009

Making more money even during recession, Coeur d’Alenes hope to maintain momentum

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe is embarking on a $75 million expansion of its casino near Worley, Idaho, that will add 105 hotel rooms, new restaurants and a luxury spa.

Tribal leaders said the expansion will give the casino the cachet of destination resort, while addressing an urgent need for additional hotel rooms.

“We don’t see the recession in our business,” said David LaSarte-Meeks, the casino’s chief executive officer. “We’re growing.”

Despite the national downturn, revenues at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel were up 12 percent during the first five months of this year, compared with the same period in 2008, LaSarte-Meeks said.

Adding hotel rooms will help the casino sustain its growth in gambling revenues, he said. The existing 202-room hotel fills up every night during the summer, and every winter weekend. The new rooms will be four- and five-star accommodations.

The two-year construction project will add about 150 new jobs to the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel, which currently employs 900, tribal officials said.

Competition is heating up among tribes for the region’s gaming dollars.

The Kalispel Tribe of Indians recently added 48,000 square feet of new restaurants and gaming space to its Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, and built a new parking garage. A 10-story, glass-fronted hotel tower and spa is under construction.

The Spokane Tribe also plans a large casino complex in Airway Heights. And the Colville Tribe recently announced plans to expand its casino near Lake Chelan to hold 500 slot machines.

“Every market has a saturation point, but we don’t think we’re near that point right now,” LaSarte-Meeks said. “We’re able to start a major expansion in the midst of a recession.”

Business leaders hailed the news.

“It’s very positive to have an investment like that right now in our community,” said Jonathan Coe, the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce’s president and general manager.

In addition to creating construction jobs, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s decision to spend millions of dollars on its casino sends a signal to others interested in investing in North Idaho, Coe said.

“It’s a positive statement about the future of this economy and the tourism industry,” he said. The Coeur d’Alene casino draws most of its customers from the greater Spokane area, but it also attracts out-of-state and international guests. This is the seventh expansion for the casino, which opened as a bingo hall in 1993.

The two new hotel wings will overlook the Circling Raven Golf Course and the rolling hills of the Palouse. A 15,000-square-foot spa will be part of the new hotel space, and a promenade will stretch between the casino and hotel wings.

A natural amphitheater for concerts and fireworks is part of the design.

Mithun Architects of Seattle designed the new facilities, which will be built by HFLK Joint Venture of Spokane.

By using drought-tolerant native plants in the landscaping, installing solar panels to heat water and using nontoxic, recycled materials in the construction, the tribe hopes to certify the casino expansion as a “green building” project.

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