Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 35° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Gaming compact approved

After years of legal skirmishes, Washington and the Spokane Tribe of Indians have negotiated a unique gaming compact that for the first time provides for revenue sharing with the state and allows the tribe to pursue plans to build a casino on its trust land near Airway Heights.

Before the Spokanes can become the second tribe with a gambling operation on the West Plains, however, they must first navigate a long and complicated federal, state and county approval process.

That process began Friday when the governor, Legislature and local government officials were formally told of the proposed compact. The gambling commission will hold a public hearing Nov. 17 to decide whether to forward the agreement to the governor.

If Gov. Christine Gregoire approves the compact, the process will end when the U.S. secretary of the Interior signs off on it months or years from now.

“This whole agreement is designed around the Spokanes’ unique situation,” being a rural tribe with land in trust near an urban area, said gambling commission Director Rick Day. “It is closing a history of controversy and dispute with the tribe while taking an entirely new policy with regard to revenue sharing.”

The Spokane Tribe, which operates Two Rivers Casino, 23 miles north of Davenport, Wash., among other facilities, is the only tribe conducting gambling in Washington state without a gaming compact. Several casinos owned by tribal members also are in operation on Spokane tribal land. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1998 that the state was not negotiating in good faith with the tribe and dropped a federal injunction against Spokane tribal gambling operations.

Last year the tribe resumed negotiations with the state.

The resulting compact would strengthen regulation of tribal gambling while ensuring the tribe is the primary beneficiary of gambling revenue, Day said.

Spokane tribal Chairman Greg Abrahamson declined to be interviewed for this report. But Abrahamson said in August that the tribal council was taking steps to improve the future of his tribe’s children and grandchildren economically and culturally.

“Our tribe will be in a lot better position than it has been in many years,” he said.

Under the compact, the state would share 3 percent of the first $30 million of the tribe’s gross gambling receipts, minus prizes paid, 5 percent of the next $30 million, 10 percent of the next, 15 percent of the next and so on, up to a maximum of 35 percent. One quarter of the state’s share will go to local governments including Spokane County.

A study conducted at the request of the tribe estimates the gross gaming revenues under the proposed compact, including a West Plains facility, would be between $80 million and $120 million a year, according to an article in the September issue of the tribal newspaper.

“It is a fair deal,” said Scott Crowell, the Spokane Tribe’s gaming attorney. He suggested the compact was overdue, but “a fair resolution to a 15-year dispute.”

Crowell said there are significant differences between this compact and those the state has negotiated with other tribes.

The tribe could operate at up to five locations on trust land within or contiguous to the reservation, provided that one of those facilities is on trust land near Airway Heights. The tribe can operate up to 7,500 electronic gaming devices with no more than 4,000 machines at any one location. The tribe can determine its own hours of operation and number of gaming tables, provide unlimited wagering for pre-screened customers at a limited number of tables and provide credit for pre-screened customers.

The compact would also allow the tribe to develop a resort complex, presumably on the 145 undeveloped acres it purchased in the late 1990s on the western edge of Airway Heights.

Typical of Indian gaming compacts, the Spokane Tribe must also contribute to problem gambling support services.

No other tribe has such a revenue sharing agreement with the state, although the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Casino, which is exempt from property taxes, pays impact fees to Airway Heights and Spokane County. Those fees amount to 2 percent of the gross revenue from Northern Quest’s table games alone, not the more lucrative electronic gaming machines.

Northern Quest Casino, which opened in December 2000 on 40 acres in Airway Heights, maintains 925 video gaming devices and 37 table games. The casino’s revenue supports the Camas Institute, a nonprofit education and job-training center, and other economic and cultural programs on the Kalispel reservation near Usk, Wash.

Airway Heights receives $374,250 a year from Northern Quest under a memorandum of understanding with the Kalispels, and an additional $62,000 as a result of the tribe’s compact with the state signed by Gov. Gary Locke in October 1998, City Manager Chuck Freeman said.

Freeman said the Spokane tribal council members have met with city officials off and on over the last three years about their plans for a casino.

“They have reached out to us,” Freeman said “They want to be good neighbors and we want to be good neighbors.”

Rep. John McCoy, an Everett Democrat and Tulalip tribal member, expressed reservations about the state sharing in gambling revenue at the expense of small tribes and the charities they support. McCoy, who said he was speaking as a lawmaker, not a tribal member, said he was concerned that the Spokane Tribe’s compact would establish a template for future agreements with tribes, each of which negotiates its own compact with the state.

“If all the tribes were to take this deal, the smaller tribes and the charities would lose out,” said McCoy.

Kalispel governmental affairs director Curt Holmes said Northern Quest generates $1.1 million a month in goods and services and contributes $1.5 million a year to charities.

“It has a good impact on the economy and the community,” Holmes said.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.