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Ambitious Expansions: Gaming Competition has Sparked Major Additions to Northwestern Indian Casinos

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Major expansions and renovations are underway or planned for Indian casinos across the northwest despite the overall decline in Indian casino revenue nationwide for the first time in 2009, according to the latest Indian Gaming Industry Report by Alan Meister, reported the Oregonian.

"The economy will improve at some point, construction costs are down, and tribes are trying to prepare for the future," said Meister, reported the Associated Press. "When things turn around, you don't want to have to start from scratch. You want to be able to hit the ground running."

The Yakama Nation is preparing to break ground on a $90 million casino expansion on its Toppenish, Washington-based Yakama Legends Casino in May. Responding to increased regional competition, the casino will add a new 200-room hotel, convention and banquet hall, parking garage, restaurant, swimming pool and spa, amongst other amenities, reported the Yakima Herald Republic. "As Central Washington's No. 1 gaming destination, we need to keep up with the competition,” Leon Thompson, vice chairman of the casino's board of directors, told a group of reporters at the casino, reported the Yakima Herald Republic.

The Yakamas clearly see one neighboring casinos as its prime competition. "We want to let Wildhorse know we aren't horsing around," said Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin, reported the Yakima Herald Republic.

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Meanwhile, the Confederated Tribes are hammering away on their own $67 million project. Plans for the Wildhorse Resort & Casino on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Eastern Oregon call for additional casino space, a theater and a high-rise hotel, reported the AP. “They call this the new ‘white buffalo’ — gaming,” said Wildhorse general manager Al Tovey to the Oregonian, of the tribes’ casino-fueled prosperity.

For the Confederated Tribes -- including the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla -- the expansion represents their latest attempt to attract a younger crowd, reported the AP. They also want to attract visitors from a 200-mile radius. Currently, locals commute to play the tables and slots from about 70 miles around, the tribe estimates. "We wanted to build a beacon to draw people here, and the only way to do that was to go up," said Gary George, chief executive officer of the Wildhorse Resort & Casino.

And that upward mobility is creating new jobs. The Confederated Tribes anticipate the yearlong expansion will add 116 mostly permanent, full-time jobs, said tribal spokeswoman Tiah DeGrofft.

The tribes' prosperity reaches beyond the reservation, serving as an economic engine for the greater community. “What’s going on at the reservation is driving what’s going on in Pendleton,” Umatilla County businessman Wesley Grilley, owner of Grilley Management Services in Pendleton, told the AP. “There is a hell of a lot of action going on out there.”