Spokane Tribe Opens New Casino in Airway Heights

Posted on: January 8, 2018, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: January 8, 2018, 01:27h.

After several years of legal challenges, the Spokane Tribe will open their new casino in Airway Heights on Monday, a move the tribe hopes will bring much needed economic benefits for their community.

Spokane Tribe Casino opens
Spokane Tribal Chairwoman Carol Evans says that the new casino is a historically important moment for her tribe. (Image: Monica L. Peone)

Known as the Spokane Tribe Casino, the new facility is an off-reservation gaming venue that has been in the works since at least 2006.

The $40 million venue, which features 450 slot machines and 12 gaming tables, also includes restaurants and bars. The tribe plans to eventually add a hotel, retail space, and other developments to the property.

Facility is on Historical Tribal Homeland

The location of the building in the West Plains is also quite significant for the tribe, as it was the traditional home of the Spokane Tribe and an area where they fought significant battles in the 19th century.

“West Plains is where we fought one of our few wars in 1858, the Plains War,” said Spokane Tribal Chairwoman Carol Evans. “And so coming full circle we are back in our historical home land, opening a casino. It is a very historical and important day for our Spokane tribal people.”

The hope is that the new casino will be able to bring economic prosperity to the Spokane reservation, where it is badly needed. With an unemployment rate of nearly 50 percent and many tribal buildings in disrepair, it is hoped that gaming expansion will provide jobs and opportunities for tribal members, as well as revenue that can be used to fund a variety of social programs.

Tribal leaders also hope that the casino will provide economic benefits for the surrounding community as a whole. The tribe plans to partner with local governments and business groups in an effort to integrate the facility into the local economy.

Casino Faced Challenges from Local Officials, Nearby Tribe

The Spokane Tribe has a history of gambling development. Three decades ago, the tribe was one of the first in the state of Washington to offer gaming, opening the Two River Casino, which offered only slot machines. Later, a smaller casino was also opened by the tribe in Chewelah.

But as other local tribes began building their own casinos, many of which were located closer to the Spokane metro area, the tribe saw their revenues decline precipitously. That’s why in 2006, the Spokane Tribe approached the Bureau of Indian Affairs to see if they could build an off-reservation resort on their Airway Heights property.

Nine years later, the US Department of Interior approved the project, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee also gave the proposal a green light. But county commissions sued the Interior Department to stop the development over concerns about a casino being located so close to Fairchild Air Force Base. In addition, the Kalispel Tribe, which operates the nearby Northern Quest Casino, also filed suit in an attempt to stop the Spokane Tribe from opening a competing venue.

At this point, however, it appears that opponents are resigned to living alongside the new casino. According to Evans, the success of the project is due to the hard work of tribal leaders.

“We have always been a people of strong will,” Evans said. “We are always people who will stand up for our rights. We always knew that we would prevail.”