May 3, 2011 in Business, Region

Casino backers to unveil more about proposal

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Supporters of a proposed Spokane Tribe casino and resort in Airway Heights will gather today to hear details on the project and announce co-chairs of a group to help push the idea.

The information session, open to the public, starts at 11 a.m. at the Spoko Fuel Station at Craig Road and U.S. 2. The event includes a free barbecue lunch, said Jamie SiJohn, the tribe’s public relations director.

SiJohn said the pro-casino coalition now numbers more than 200 members.

The group’s co-chairs are former Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager, a West Plains resident, and Todd Ekstrom, manager of the Airway Heights branch of Bank of Whitman.

Ekstrom said he is serving as an individual citizen, not as a representative of the bank.

Also on hand will be Deven Johnson, president of the Northeast Washington Building and Construction Trades Council.

“The labor groups (I belong to) back the project because it will provide good construction jobs and good permanent jobs,” Johnson said. He endorses it also because it relies on private, not government, money.

Despite the backing, the Spokane Tribe’s casino still needs approval by the federal Department of the Interior and by the Washington governor’s office.

Another 60 or so citizens and business owners have formed a group in opposition to the Spokane Tribe casino. That group says the Kalispel casino and resort in Airway Heights makes the proposal unnecessary.

Irv Zakheim, owner of Zak Designs, a West Plains business, heads Citizens Against Casino Expansion. Zakheim said he regards the projected $400 million benefit and estimated 3,800 jobs from the Spokane casino as “overblown” numbers.

“I’ve never heard them explain how they get those numbers,” he added.

Mike Spencer, vice chairman of the Spokane Tribal Council, said the first phase would create 1,200 casino jobs. The rest would result over 15 to 20 years, and would include resort-hotel jobs and spinoff jobs created by companies that the tribe anticipates would open near the casino.

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