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Small casino prospers in rough economy

PORT ANGELES, Wash. – While numerous casinos struggle to make profits in a lagging economy, some even closing their doors, one new, secluded and cozy slot-driven tribal casino has managed to buck the odds and stay in the black.

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe opened the doors to the 7,000-square-foot Elwha River Casino in late March; it features120 bingo-style slot machines, a snack bar and gift shop. A no alcohol policy applies to the casino, as it’s located on a dry reservation, but this rule opens the doors to customers 18 and up.

Elwha River Casino is located about 10 miles west of downtown Port Angeles. Joni Eades, casino marketing manager, said that prior to the opening she was concerned the remote location could hurt business.

“Things are going better than projected, especially since we are in a remote location,” she said. “It was the only property that the tribe had readily available that wasn’t tied up in trust.”

Meanwhile, the casino has already expanded its offerings.

They recently added four Gold Series slot machines that are on a network with all other Gold Series slot machines in the state, featuring a jackpot of $1 million. The machines stand 11 feet tall and possess all the bells and whistles of Las Vegas-style slots.

Additionally, they plan to add up to 20 new slot machines by January, and are in the process of expanding the deli to include a fryer. Eades said customers asked for deep fried fare such as fish and chips and chicken strips. “We are evolving and finding what works in this community. We are listening to the people on what they want and don’t want.”

But the growth doesn’t stop there. An off-reservation parcel adjacent to U.S. Route 101 could be their new home once the Interior approves the fee-to-trust process, which could take three to five years.

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“If it becomes available sooner we certainly will be willing to move sooner,” she said. “We’re filling up this footprint rather quickly.”

At this juncture, they will likely obtain a liquor license and may add table games to the new facility.

While business continues to boom for Elwha River Casino, in October two other small casinos on the Olympic Peninsula folded due to slow business.

The Skokomish Tribe closed the doors of its Lucky Dog Casino located near Shelton, Wash. It could be temporary, as their Web site says it’s closed for the winter. Mickey’s Casino, a non-tribal card casino located in Port Angeles, has likely closed for good. Reports state the owner has put the land up for sale.

Eades credits their success to fun promotions and a friendly staff who greet regular customers by name. They offer double points on themed days catered to tribal elders, seniors, men and women. The Web site also touts that they have the “hottest slots in town,” and Eades backs up this claim to fame.

“Our slots are truly the hottest slots in town, where our hold is just about as low as you can get.”

And even they can’t escape the “Twilight” buzz. With the opening of the movie “New Moon” Nov. 20, they plan on holding giveaways the entire weekend. Eades, a lifelong resident, has seen new life breathed into the area due to the boost in “Twilight” tourism. The city’s economy relied heavily on the timber industry, which has taken a huge hit in the recession.

“It’s amazing what a book and movie will do. It’s great for Port Angeles, and a leg up in promoting tourism.”

For more information on the Elwha River Casino call (360) 452-3005 or visit