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Washington casino plan worries Oregon tribe

Portland, Oregon (AP) January 2011

The news that the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington state has won federal approval for the land needed for a casino a few minutes’ drive from Portland has given the tribe with Oregon’s largest casino yet another source of competition.

And leaders of the Grande Ronde say they’re still going to fight the proposed casino just off Interstate 5 near La Center. The Grande Ronde run the Spirit Mountain casino about 60 miles southwest of Portland.

“It would clearly mean a significant economic impact for us and for Oregon,” said Grand Ronde spokesman Justin Martin. “This is not a done deal by any stretch.”

But, the Oregonian newspaper reports, the Cowlitz Tribe is confident they can lock in the last steps of a casino plan that has had to be scaled down during the recession. Earning the land for their own reservation was a major step, said Cowlitz Tribe Chairman William Iyall.

“It’s just a huge lift for the Cowlitz people that they’ve been waiting patiently for,” Iyall said.

The Cowlitz have been landless since the U.S. government seized its property in the 1860s.

The tribe has partnered with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, which runs East Coast gambling operations. Iyall said the casino can be open within three years.

The plan for now is a 134,000 square-foot casino west of I-5. The first phase of the project would be a two-story casino with room for 135 gambling tables, 20 poker tables and a 5,000-seat convention and meeting center that could double as a music venue.

Martin said the Grand Ronde believes the Cowlitz lack the legal authority to operate a casino at all. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tribes recognized after 1934 can’t take land into trust. The Cowlitz Tribe was formally recognized in 2000.

“Obviously the federal government doesn’t think that’s the case or they wouldn’t have issued the decision,” Iyall said.

Oregon voters shot down a similar casino proposal in November. Measure 75, which would have allowed the construction of the state’s first non-tribal casino in a suburb of Portland, lost by a margin of 2-1.

The Grande Ronde isn’t the only group opposed to the casino. Clark County, Wash., commissioners initially backed a memorandum of understanding with the Cowlitz, but withdrew their support in 2009, citing crime concerns.

“The decision has been made,” said Clark County commissioner Marc Boldt said. “We’ll live with it, we’ll deal with it, and we’ll deal with the tribe as we would any other developer.”

The tribe plans to start construction as soon as it can secure financing. Construction is expected to last two years.




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