Cowlitz Tribe to get gaming revenues

State panel OKs compact granting it a share

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The state gambling commission has approved a compact allowing the Cowlitz Tribe to start sharing in gaming revenues with other tribes.

Tribal Chairman William Iyall said Thursday that he and Gov. Jay Inslee will sign the compact, which will be sent to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for publication in the Federal Register.

Regardless of the outcome of a years-long legal battle over establishing a reservation in Clark County, Thursday's compact puts the Cowlitz Tribe on equal footing with the 28 other federally recognized tribes in the state by allowing it to share in gaming revenues.

Each tribe in Washington state has an allotment of 975 player stations, all or some of which can be leased to tribes that have casinos.

Iyall said he hopes to be collecting gaming revenue by the end of the year. The exact number of player stations the tribe will lease out has not been determined, he said.

Thursday's gambling commission meeting was at the Comfort Inn & Conference Center in Tumwater.

Iyall and David Trujillo, director of the gambling commission, gave presentations on the compact on May 2 to the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and on Monday to the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee in Olympia.

Trujillo said the compact was similar to compacts with other tribes. The Cowlitz compact has received more attention, however, because of the challenge to the ruling by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, that the Cowlitz could establish a reservation west of La Center.

Gaming compacts have previously been issued to at least two landless tribes, Trujillo told the House committee on Monday.

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, 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 also 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.

As Iyall told lawmakers, the Cowlitz will not build a casino unless they prevail in court. But they should be allowed to share in gaming revenues, he said.

The rest of the compact approved Thursday will only be relevant if the Cowlitz does prevail. 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.

Talk of a potential casino in Clark County has been around since 1999.

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, who challenged, among other things, the tribe's historical ties to the proposed reservation.

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.