Cowlitz push for tribal-state compact

Tribe would be able to lease some or all of nearly 1,000 slot machines

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Cowlitz Chairman William Iyall testified before a House committee Monday in Olympia in support of a tentative tribal-state compact being considered by the state gambling commission.

The gambling commission will have a public hearing on the compact at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Comfort Inn Conference Center in Tumwater. The hearing can be watched online at tvw.org.

On Monday, Iyall and David Trujillo, director of the gambling commission, stressed to the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee members the same point they made May 2 to the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Regardless of the fate of a proposed casino in Clark County, they said, a tribal-state compact will allow the Cowlitz to begin leasing some or all of its allotted 975 player stations to other tribal casinos and begin sharing in gaming revenues.

In a May 1 letter to Mike Amos, chairman of the gambling commission, 18th District legislators urged that the compact be set aside until legal challenges are resolved. The letter was copied to lawmakers and brought up during both hearings.

The letter, signed by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Reps. Liz Pike, R-Camas and Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, cited not only the federal lawsuit over the decision to take 152 acres into trust west of La Center, but state litigation over La Center’s plans to extend sewer lines to the proposed reservation. The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board will have a hearing June 13 on those plans, which have been challenged by Clark County, local property owners and the four La Center cardrooms.

On Monday, Vick reiterated concerns about the gambling commission approving a compact while legal issues are unresolved.

But Iyall said the Cowlitz are the only tribe among 29 federally recognized tribes in the state that don’t have a compact.

“Until the legal issues are decided, this compact will allow the tribe to benefit from leasing revenues,” Iyall said.

The Senate and House committees did not vote. The gambling commission will vote Thursday to send the compact to Gov. Jay Inslee or back to Trujillo for revisions.

Under the proposed compact, the tribe could build two gaming facilities. One could have as many as 75 gaming tables, and a second could have up to 50 tables.

The tribe could also have as many as 3,000 “tribal lottery player stations,” with as many as 2,500 in one facility. Any terminals beyond the tribe’s allotted 975 terminals would have to be leased from other tribes, however.

Trujillo said those parts of the compact will only be valid if the tribe wins in court, where the case has been tied up for years.

The tribe applied to take the land into trust in 2002. A Record of Decision was issued in 2010 and appealed by Clark County, the city of Vancouver and other plaintiffs.

In March 2013, a federal judge threw out that 2010 Record of Decision, and a new one was issued and appealed.

While attorneys have said a ruling could be issued this summer, the decision will likely be appealed as the case stands to be a test case of a 2009 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that ruling, known as Carcieri, the high court said the government can put land into trust only for tribes that were under federal jurisdiction in 1934.

The Cowlitz were federally recognized in 2000.