Salem casino could keep 'proliferation of casinos' from metro region

PORTLAND, Ore. – One week after the Cowlitz Tribe’s ilani casino opened in Ridgefield, Washington to huge crowds, some Oregon tribes have a plan to build a Salem casino that could compete with ilani.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians announced the plan Tuesday. The casino, which is set to open in 2021, would be a partnership with other Oregon tribes and all participating tribes would share revenues.

The yet-to-be-named casino will be located off I-5 at exit 258 – about an hour from Portland and an hour and a half from the new ilani mega-casino in Southwest Washington.

The Siletz have been hatching this plan for about two years and are working to get buy-in from all nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon. They hope the plan would keep a "proliferation of casinos" from the metro region, according to Craig Dorsay, tribal attorney for the Siletz Indians.

None of the tribes would need to contribute financially to get a share of the revenues, as long as they agree not to build another casino in the Portland area. 

"There's very little downside for them," Dorsay said. 

The casino would be on land that is currently held in federal trust for the Siletz. Financing for the casino has not yet been determined. 

The Salem casino would have 140,000 square feet of entertainment, gaming, and a hotel. The tribes expect the casino to generate about $185 million in gross revenue annually and employ 1,500 people full-time.

The ilani casino is more than twice the size of the proposed Salem casino, but employs fewer people. Ilani cost $510 million to build and is larger than any other casino in Oregon and Washington, with 2,500 slot machines, 15 restaurants and a concert venue. A hotel is planned for future development. When ilani opened on April 24, all 3,000 parking spots were full by 11 a.m. and Interstate 5 was backed up for nine miles. 

Background: How the ilani casino will change the region’s economy 

Dee Pigsley, Chairman of the Siletz Tribal Council, said the impact of ilani is expected to have a negative impact on both Oregon tribal casino revenues and the state’s bottom line. Projections show the Oregon lottery and the state's tribes could lose more than $100 million a year each from lost revenues and a new Salem casino could turn that around.

“As a Tribal community, we have a responsibility to preserve and grow jobs and revenue in Oregon,” said Pigsley. “These funds directly support family wage jobs and healthcare, education, environmental, housing and transportation programs throughout the state.”

The Siletz project has pledged to give far more of its proceeds to the community than ilani, in hopes the state and federal government sign off on the plan. The Salem casino will give a staggering 25 percent of its net gaming revenue to the state and local government, with the remaining funds distributed among participating tribes. The Siletz would keep 25 percent of revenues, and participating tribes would split the remaining 50 percent. 

Ilani plans to give 2 percent of its net revenues to the surrounding community, with no details yet in place for how that will be distributed.

The Siletz already own a casino; the 157,000-square-foot Chinook Winds casino and resort in Lincoln City, which gives 6 percent of proceeds to the local community. Other Oregon tribal casinos, including Spirit Mountain and Seven Feathers, also donate 6 percent of their net revenues.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians has not yet determined which Oregon tribes will be part of the new Salem project. Governor Kate Brown's spokesman, Bryan Hockaday, said Brown would only discuss an intertribal casino proposal if all tribes are on board. 

"To date, Governor Brown has not received any proposal that enjoys comprehensive tribal support," he said.

The biggest road block could be getting buy-in from the Grand Ronde Tribe, whose Spirit Mountain casino is just 30 miles from Salem. 

Dorsay said with the Salem project, Oregon gamblers can keep their money in their home state instead of across the border at ilani. 

"Obviously the issue is every Oregon dollar that goes into Washington does not come back to Oregon at all," he said. "We’re hoping to keep some revenue in the state." 

© 2017 KGW-TV


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