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Tuesday, July 14, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Judge weighs whether to continue lawsuit regarding new Spokane Tribe casino

The new Spokane Tribe Casino in Airway Heights. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The new Spokane Tribe Casino in Airway Heights. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A lawsuit seeking to disrupt future plans of the Spokane Tribe Casino in Airway Heights went before a federal judge Monday morning.

The Spokane Tribe broke ground on the $40 million casino in 2016. It was the first phase of the tribe’s plan for a $400 million casino resort.

The location is 2 miles west of the Kalispell Tribe’s Northern Quest Resort & Casino, which opened in 2000. The Spokane Tribe has long considered the 145 acres of its new venture to be part of its aboriginal territory.

In court Monday, Zach Welcker, attorney for the Kalispel Tribe, argued that the Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to take into consideration how the Spokane Tribe’s casino would adversely affect Northern Quest’s operations.

He said the loss of revenue alone would be a $43 million detriment to the tribe.

The summary judgment hearing seeks to have U.S. District Court Judge Frem Nielsen decide on all or parts of the case before it goes to a jury. Spokane County also is a plaintiff in the case against the Spokane Tribe, contending that the new casino would present a safety hazard to nearby Fairchild Air Force Base.

Phase One of the Spokane Tribe Casino, 14300 U.S. Highway 2, was completed early last year. It’s unclear what, if any, impact the small casino has had on business at Northern Quest, which recently completed costly additions that include a new pub and movie theater.

Danielle Spinelli, representing the Spokane Tribe, argued that the Department of the Interior was correct in its decision to allow the Spokane Tribe to build in Airway Heights, just as the federal agency had done in 1997 when it allowed the Kalispel Tribe to build under similar circumstances. Former Gov. Gary Locke approved it in 1998.

Since then, she said, the Kalispel Tribe spends on average 30 times what the Spokane Tribe spends per tribal member on government assistance, thanks in large part to revenue from Northern Quest.

The new casino under Spokane tribal leadership would provide similar benefits, without impacting the Kalispel Tribe in a harmful way, Spinelli said.

“There is an enormous, enormous need for the Spokane people,” she said in court.

In attendance behind Spinelli were about three dozen members of the Spokane Tribe, who traveled by bus from Wellpinit early Monday morning.

Mike Tedesco, executive director of the Spokane Tribe, said the showing was a “testament to the resiliency of the Spokane Tribe of Indians” to keep the casino open and operating.

A decision by Nielsen is expected this summer.

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