The Spokane City Council should not reverse its opposition to construction of the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino in Airway Heights.
Asserting that the city should be neutral in the face-off between the Spokanes and the Kalispel Tribe, owners of the Northern Quest Casino & Resort, ignores what should be the paramount interest of the council and all city officials: What is best for the city of Spokane.
Another entertainment and hospitality complex on the West Plains competing with venues and hotels within Spokane is not best for businesses or the city itself, which loses the tax revenues needed to pay for improved services; more police, to name just one.
Because tribal enterprises are not required to disclose much at all about the business aspects of their operations, their revenues are not known.
Northern Quest has been a good neighbor and a generous contributor to many community organizations. And it will be the enterprise most damaged should the Spokanes get permission to proceed with their casino complex, which will include a hotel and mall.
The Kalispels say any loss of revenue will jeopardize the tribe’s ability to repay a $210 million loan that financed expansion at Northern Quest, and maintain the financial support of its members; one of the elements the U.S. Department of Interior must consider before approving the Spokanes’ project.
A final environmental impact statement prepared for the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been in the hands of Interior officials for almost a year. Should Secretary Sally Jewell sign off on the project, the final step would be approval by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The Northern Quest application went through a similar process, and was approved in large part because the Kalispels’ reservation in Pend Oreille County is too small to be economically viable. That is not the case with the Spokanes’ reservation, but there is no denying Northern Quest sapped much of the business out of the tribe’s on-reservation casinos.
It has also sucked up musical acts and other entertainers who might otherwise have played in the Veterans Memorial Arena, INB Performing Arts Center, The Bing and the Knitting Factory. Its restaurants and hotel rooms have the same effect. Few card rooms and bingo halls have survived.
Northern Quest and Coeur d’Alene Casino in Idaho may have incrementally increased the region’s profile as a gaming destination, but most of the gambling dollars they and the Spokanes would compete for are already here.
Greater Spokane Inc. and Spokane County commissioners oppose the Spokanes’ project because of the potential threat it represents to the future of Fairchild Air Force Base, a claim the tribe says is bogus. But that is not a risk worth running as the Air Force and other military services anticipate some measure of federal budget austerity.
A city council shift to a position of neutrality will send a belated, mixed signal to Jewell and Inslee regarding the desirability of another casino. That would be wrong, and a shift in the council majority will not make it right.
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