Officials reviewing tribal casino rules

Kalispels oppose quicker process for nonreservation sites

Plans by the Spokane Tribe of Indians to build a casino in Airway Heights ignited criticism from another area tribe during a closed-door Thursday meeting held by a federal agency that oversees Indian gaming.

The Thursday afternoon “consultation” was organized by the Office of Indian Gaming, a division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The group is hosting six meetings between now and Nov. 18 to review rules that decide when tribes can build casinos on nonreservation land.

The Spokane Tribe hopes to build a 2.2-million-square-foot casino complex in Airway Heights on land that’s not part of its reservation. A change by the Office of Indian Gaming on its current rules would simplify that process.

If approved, the Spokane Tribe casino would be several miles from the Northern Quest Resort and Casino, opened by the Kalispel Tribe in 2000.

The meeting, held on Spokane’s West Plains, was not open to the public or the media.

But after the session, a Kalispel council member said his tribe’s concern is that changes approved by the Department of the Interior over non-reservation gaming could have impacts statewide and nationwide.

Nick Pierre, a Kalispel business councilman, said the Kalispels don’t oppose the right of the Spokane Tribe to open casinos. The tribe however sees this specific effort as an attempt to short-cut the approval process, he said.

The result, he noted, would eliminate the detailed, lengthy process whereby states and local communities review such proposals. If the Spokane Tribe’s casino is approved in short order, Washington officials would have to allow other state tribes to do the same, he said.

An attempt to get comment from Spokane Tribe officials was unsuccessful.

The Kalispels have reservation land in Usk, about 50 miles north of Spokane and followed a rigorous process before getting approval to open the Northern Quest casino, Pierre said.

The Spokane Tribe loudly opposed the effort to open Northern Quest. Pierre said the Kalispel Tribe’s opposition has nothing to do with that history.

“This is not a feud. This is about playing by the rules,” Pierre said.

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