The mood was celebratory as Spokane tribal members and their supporters gathered in downtown Spokane to celebrate Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s okay for the Spokane Tribe to build a casino at West Plains, just west of the city of Spokane. That okay had come on June 8 and was the final approval needed, following approval by the Department of Interior a year earlier.
“We’re so happy with the governor approving for us to build a casino,” Tribal Chairwoman Carol Evans said, explaining that this event was a chance to celebrate and honor “all the people that supported this process for the last ten years. It’s been a long drawn out process and supporters of ours have put in many hours.”
The process leading to this day began a decade ago. The final environmental impact statement was completed seven years later, in 2013. Then came the Interior Department green light in 2015, and the final okay from Governor Inslee just last month.
The development will take place on traditional homelands of the Spokane Tribe on land owned by the tribe, although not within the reservation boundary itself: tribal trust lands. Only a few other tribes have been permitted to build outside reservation boundaries. Several things led to this decision to allow off-reservation development. The Department of Interior, in a letter to Governor Inslee, commented the development was in the best interests of the Spokane Tribe and not detrimental to the surrounding community.
Artist rendering of the future casino
Many in Spokane had expressed concern that the development might hinder the future of Fairchild Air Force Base but that concern was not reflected in correspondence with the Air Force. The Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Miranda Ballentine responded “STEP (Spokane Tribe Economic Project) will not interfere with Fairchild’s current operations, or negatively impact future Air Force citing decisions,” as reported in the Spokesman Review.
Chairwoman Evans said ground breaking is anticipated to begin this fall for the first phase of the development, which will include a casino with 450 slot machines and 12 table games, two restaurants, one of which will seat 190 guests, plus parking facilities. Future development will include a resort hotel plus commercial and retail space, a police and fire department, plus a Tribal Cultural Center and Wellness Center. There are 145 acres included in the project and it’s expected that ten years will be required to complete the development. Wetlands within the project area will be retained and maintained as wetlands.
Tribal Vice Chairman, David Browneagle, offered a slightly different version about the value of the casino to the tribe. “I believe in our history, our values, our culture, language and traditions. It goes back to our ancestors’ time. I look at this opportunity with gaming as no different than the opportunity presented in the past. Our people used to go across the mountains to the plains to hunt buffalo. Or go to the waterways for the fish and trading and all the things we’ve always done. The wherewithal to provide for our people was very important then as it is today. This is the same principle, providing for all our people today as our ancestors did. We were their future. It’s a continuance of the same belief and value system, taking care of our people.”
The Spokane Tribe will be investing about $400 million in the development and it’s anticipated it will create over 5,000 jobs. Tribal unemployment presently is upwards of 50 percent and this will allow many tribal members to become self sufficient, in addition to the economic benefits and jobs for the entire region. The annual payroll is estimated at over $50 million in addition to the millions spent at the various businesses within the development.
“Today is a beautiful day,” Chairwoman Evans said.