Eighteen government and business leaders have taken a stand against the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino in Airway Heights, according to letters sent to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The letters were released today by a coalition of business and community members rallying against the casino, as the BIA considers the casino plan.
Irv Zakheim, who helped start the group Citizens Against Casino Expansion, said he asked the BIA about two months ago for copies of all letters for and against the proposed casino. Zakheim is founder and owner of Zak Designs in Airway Heights.
“I was surprised to find not one letter of support” for the tribe’s proposal, Zakheim said. He and others from the coalition released the 12 letters that included signatures from nearly 20 state and local officials.
More letters in support of or opposing the casino may have been submitted since he made the request, Zakheim said.
Efforts to reach the Spokane Tribe for comment today were not successful.
Those opposing the casino include State Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown, Secretary of State Sam Reed, State Auditor Brian Sonntag, all three Pend Oreille County commissioners, Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove and State Sen. Michael Baumgartner.
Also signing a letter against the casino is former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry. The issues raised include negative impacts on the West Plains communities, encroachment on expansion of Fairchild Air Force Base, and concerns that the new casino would open the door to future gaming expansion.
The BIA has been reviewing the Spokane Tribe’s request to operate a casino on 145 acres it acquired on the edge of Airway Heights. The tribe said the facility is needed to provide new jobs and will increase economic activity both for the tribe and the region.
The Kalispel Tribe in 2000 built a casino in Airway Heights on land it bought and designated as tribal property. The tribe’s ancestral reservation is near Usk, about 50 miles north of Airway Heights.
Zakheim said he wished he had also taken a public stance against the Kalispel casino when it was under review.
“I have a good relationship with the Kalispels now,” Zakheim said. “There’s nothing I can do now (about their Airway Heights casino), but I’m opposing this one because I don’t want to keep quiet again.”
If the BIA approved the Spokane Tribe casino, it would mark a rare instance of allowing a gambling facility on non-reservation land. The BIA is preparing to release an environmental impact statement on the proposal. That would trigger a 45-day period for additional comment.
Patrick Rushing, mayor of Airway Heights, said he was “extremely disappointed” at the negative positions taken by area leaders. Rushing and Airway Heights’ city council have taken favorable positions toward the Spokane Tribe project.
“That members of our government would oppose a jobs creation package, that doesn’t cost them a penny, tells me what direction our country is going,” Rushing said. Rushing added the BIA should have received a letter of support for the Spokane Tribe sent by the Airway Heights city council.
Even if the BIA approves the Spokanes’ casino, the tribe would still need to negotiate a compact with the governor’s office before being allowed to operate.