The Spokane Tribe sent in a casino proposal in 2006 to develop an off-reservation casino but had to wait for nine years to get approval from the U.S. Department of Interior. The tribe received permission in 2015 after Governor Jay Inslee signed-off on the casino proposal. On November 9, 2016, hundreds of people gathered together in Airway Heights for a ground breaking ceremony which was led by tribal chairwoman Carol Evans.
The proposed casino will be built in phases and is expected to be completed within a 10 month period. The first phase of the development will involve the construction of a $40 million casino which is expected to have 450 slot machines and 12 gaming tables. An outdoor plaza along with two restaurants will also be part of the first phase. Based on the tribe’s economic plans for the next ten years, the casino resort will become a part of the Hard Rock Hotel brand.
The casino resort will be spread across 145 acres of land and will be on U.S Highway 2. The tribe also has plans to develop a resort hotel, a tribal cultural center, entertainment venues, shopping malls and restaurants going forward. Once the casino is fully operational, it is expected to provide more than 5,000 jobs and generate an annual payroll that is around $66 million. The tribe has selected Swinerton Builders to be the general contractor for the casino resort.
In 2015, Kevin Washburn, the Department of Interior’s assistant secretary for Indian Affairs said in a letter that the casino resort will help to bring down poverty among the 2,900 listed tribal members as nearly a quarter of these families have financial difficulties on the Spokane Reservation. The casino resort will not only provide employment opportunities but also help with a number of other important needs on the reservation such as education, health care, and cultural preservation.
The Kalispel Tribe had opposed the development of the casino resort as it operates Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Airway Heights and was concerned that the new casino resort which is just two miles away from Quest Resort, would eat into its profits. There were also certain government officials and businesses who were concerned that the new casino could get into the flight path of aircrafts coming into the Fairchild Air Force Base.
The Spokane Tribe addressed both these concerns by participating in land use studies which recommended a number of restrictions to not hinder operations at the Fairchild base. The tribe overcame these obstacles by agreeing to limit the height of its building to 60 feet. Evans addressed the Kalispel tribe’s concerns by stating that studies have shown that there is room for two casinos to operate in Airway Heights and that it would foster healthy competition.