The Cowlitz Indian Tribe has overcome the substantial legal threat that would prevent the opening of the $510 million casino complex in Southwest Washington. In addition to a number of other legal and regulatory set backs, the Cowlitz Tribe faced a number of casino and private land owners made the accusation that the tribe’s right to the land on which the Ilani Casino stands was wrongly issued through a federal mandate in 2010. The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed these accusations and the casino is now set to open by the end of April.
The Cowlitz Tribe was once a landless and federally unrecognized tribe but has since established themselves as significant competitors with the construction of the Ilani Casino in the city of Ridgefield. The casino is in close proximity with a number of casino card rooms, including one of the casino’s who challenged their right to the land: La Center. Part of the reason La Center and other casinos opposed the opening of the Ilani may be due to the fact that it is projected to draw at least $200 million each year from nearby card rooms and casinos.
When completed the 368,000 square foot casino will have 80 gaming tables, 2,500 slot machines, and 15 restaurants. A casino of this magnitude is expected to bring in nearly 1,200 permanent jobs and 4 ½ million annual visitors. On average, the Ilani Casino is expected to attract more than 12,000 people a day, The casino is backed by the Connecticut-based Mohegan tribe and has been backed by a number of celebrities as well. Michael Jordan recently announced that he will be opening an upscale cocktail lounge and steak house, while President Donald Trump formerly expressed his interest as a potential investor.
Despite the backlash it has faced from local casinos, the Ilani casino is expected to have a positive impact on the surrounding community. 2,100 constructions workers were hired to build the casino, in addition to the 1,200 permanent casino jobs. A recent report found that the majority of these workers are local residents. The casino will also give 2 percent of its annual net revenue to Clark County; some reports suggest this will be distributed to the community through arts and education programs.
The 2 percent revenue the casino is returning is only a fraction of the 6 percent that is given by other casinos in the state of Washington. Despite this deficit, the Cowlitz Tribe needs to think seriously about the debt they have created in order to fund the project. The casino was financed by private investors and banks who have given the Cowlitz only seven years to pay it back, with interest. “We are shouldering a lot of debt, however, we look forward to being self-sufficient,” said Chairman Bill Ilyall.
For now the tribe can be happy with the Supreme Courts decision to allow the casino’s doors to open. To the Cowlitz Tribe this decision was much more than a decision that would permit them to operate a casino. “This is a triumphant moment… because it marks the end of 160-year journey back to our homeland, and the beginning of a new journey where centuries of Cowlitz Tribal heritage and traditions will unite and thrive, here, on our own reservation,” Iyall said. The Cowlitz, he continued, “are forever home.”