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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kalispel Tribe opens casino addition

Antoinne Holmes, 5, son of Curt Holmes, the vice chair of the Kalispel Tribal Council, checks out the bronze eagle by artist Chester Fields in the promenade in the new addition at Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights on Sunday. The new addition boasts a family friendly entrance. 
 (Liz Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)
Thomas Clouse Staff writer

Inside the large doors, on the plush new carpet and under the trendy lights at the 60,000-square-foot addition to Northern Quest Casino, stands a kiosk displaying historical photographs of Kalispel tribal members.

One young man sits atop a horse on a mountain peak. Others show weathered tribal elders posing near wooden shacks.

Northern Quest and tribal officials had a private dedication Saturday so that tribal members could see the new digs before they opened to the public in another ceremony Sunday.

“If you could have seen the looks on the elders’ faces,” said Curt Holmes, vice chairman of the Kalispel Tribe. “Some of them remember living in 8-by-5-foot shacks. We’re extremely proud.”

The expansion cost about $13 million and increased the capacity of the River’s Edge Buffet, which costs $11.95 per person, to 280. It also increased the seating at the Pend Oreille Pavilion Entertainment from 500 to 1,200 in a theater-style setting.

It also tripled the size of the gift shop and included a new Woodlands Restaurant, which is open 24 hours a day. An expansion of seating at the Legends of Fire Sports Bar will open soon.

“We tried to make it family-friendly,” casino general manger Peter Riverso said. “We had focus groups. We listened to what our patrons were asking and we built accordingly.”

The new wing expands the casino, which was first opened in December 2000 with about 59,000 square feet of gaming and entertainment.

The first addition increased the casino another 40,000 square feet and the latest project pushed the casino to a total of 159,000 square feet under one roof, Jennifer Simmons, public relations coordinator, said in a press release.

In the last three weeks, Holmes said, the casino near Airway Heights hired 187 new full-time employees just to service the new addition. It pushed the overall employment at the casino up to almost 1,000, he said. Of those employees, about 20 percent are Native Americans.

Four years of proceeds from the casino “has enabled our youth to start dreaming,” Holmes said. “The door has been thrown wide open for opportunities.”

The tribe uses 20 percent of the casino profits to fund the Camas Institute. It includes programs to increase post-secondary education programs for tribal youths, Holmes said.

“When you try to break some cycles, that’s where you do it – with the young kids,” Holmes said.

The proceeds from the casino have also enabled the tribe to provide social services to the tribal elders, he said. “We’ve also made a commitment to work with the local community,” Holmes said.

The casino spends about $750,000 a month on goods and services to mostly local vendors, he said. “Most of those paychecks go back out into the community.”

At the ceremony Sunday, tribal elder Stan Bluff gave the invocation.

“We are celebrating the vision and the hopes and the wills of our people,” Bluff said. “They are the ones who gave us the strength to survive the hardships of the past.”

Holmes pointed at the historical kiosk to show the conditions that Bluff and other tribal elders endured.

“To go from that to see this, you can’t put a price on that,” Holmes said.