High stakes

Call this one the gambling issue of the year – next year. And not just in Washington, where it is situated, but in the whole of the Northwest.

The development today was an agreement between the state of Washington and the Spokane Tribe for construction of a big new casino – 4,700 gambling machines – at Airway Heights, near Spokane. In contrast to other tribal casinos in Washington (and the Northwest generally), the machines would use cash rather than paper slips, adding to the emotional pull. It easily could become the largest casino of any kind in the Northwest.

It would immediately overshadow the tribal casinos in Idaho closest to Spokane, the Coeur d’Alenes’ at Worley and the Kutenais’ at Bonners Ferry. It could impact casinos much further away – these kind of things sometimes become super-trendy gambler draws.

There’s another thing. This casino would be located not on reservation land but on tribal trust land, and that raises a big issue in connection with other casino operations and proposals.

Not to get ahead of this: We noted this was an agreement, but that’s only the earliest step in the process. The state gambling commission is not going to be predisposed in favor – one member has already been quoted as saying she didn’t see how it could approve this proposal – and Governor Chris Gregoire seems unlikely to support it either. The Department of Interior would have to weigh in, and new Secretary Dirk Kempthorne seems unlikely to support such a plan, on various grounds (though he does have a history of working out tribal gaming agreements in the area – could this suggest a compromise idea down the line?).

But the debate is about to begin. And for various reasons, Washington, Idaho and Oregon all had best pay attention.

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