The impact of the Ilani Casino Resort upon Clark County will range somewhere between large and transformative, with the facility expected to draw millions of visitors a year. And while concerns about that effect remain strong, it is time for residents and local leaders to focus upon mitigating the drawbacks and enhancing the positives the casino will bring to the area.
That is the only reasonable course of action, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to consider challenges to the process that allowed the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to build a $510 million casino near La Center. Last week’s announcement was the definitive word on the issue, effectively burying a challenge that already had pretty much been declared dead.
Like it or not, the casino is about to become one of Clark County’s defining characteristics, and that could be viewed as a marketing opportunity. Vancouver, for example, could play off Ilani in promoting its waterfront development: “Spend your lunch money at the waterfront before you lose it at the casino!”
With gaming, dining, and entertainment, Ilani is expected to draw 4.5 million visitors a year beginning with its opening this month. Whether or not that number proves accurate, there is a reason that Las Vegas and Native American tribes keep building casinos — they attract visitors and make money. And with Ilani being the casino nearest to Portland, it is destined to see a round-the-clock flow of people willing to gamble with their money.
The drawback is that this also represents a gamble for local residents, using the quality of life along the Interstate 5 corridor as currency. The influx of visitors from Portland will exacerbate problems with the already swollen I-5 Bridge — a fact that hopefully will expedite efforts to replace the outdated crossing. In the long run, the issue also might increase pressure for building additional paths across the Columbia River, providing travelers with options for avoiding the area near the casino.
It is inevitable that the nature of north Clark County will be altered by Ilani. The complex will attract other development in the area, increasing demand for schools, law enforcement, and infrastructure. In addition, plans for the casino’s wastewater treatment must remain under scrutiny. Water from the facility will be treated and then injected into the ground using a membrane bioreactor system. The problem is that this will be near the Troutdale Aquifer, the county’s sole source of drinking water. County leaders and casino officials must continue to reassure the public that the system is working as expected.
These issues, however, represent arguments that have been hashed and rehashed. While there remains opposition to the casino, those who oppose it fought the good fight and lost. It is time to move on and focus upon the benefits.
Among those is a victory for the Cowlitz tribe, which was officially recognized by the federal government in 2000. When the Supreme Court declined to consider the challenge to the casino, Cowlitz Chairman Bill Iyall wrote: “This is a triumphant moment for The Cowlitz Indian Tribe because it marks the end of a 160-year journey back to our homeland. The Cowlitz, the Forever People, are forever home.”
Another benefit is that the casino will attract visitors to the region, providing a boon to commerce in many areas of Clark County — particularly La Center and nearby Ridgefield.
With cooperation from local governments and local residents, the Ilani Casino Resort can be a net positive for Clark County. It is time to make the casino work for all of us.