Traffic quiets for Ilani’s second day

Casino officials say 15,000 people attended opening day

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

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By 3 a.m. Tuesday, all but five card tables were still in play at Ilani Casino Resort, casino officials said.

“I guess I had anticipated the volumes (of people) to taper off after the bars closed and the end-of-the-night sweep,” said Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager. “But that didn’t happen.”

The $510 million casino near La Center held its grand opening Monday. After years in development, the debut was long-awaited for many in the Vancouver-Portland metro area, evidenced by a caravan of gambling enthusiasts who clogged 8 miles of Interstate 5.

The second day was quieter, Fox-LaRose said, but a head count wasn’t available. Monday drew an estimated 15,000 visitors, she said, and many stayed late.

“Just the activity and the energy,” she said, adding that there were over 50 jackpots at its slot machines. “You look at your watch, it’s 3 a.m. but you feel like it’s dinner time.”

Besides gambling, she said the restaurants were in full-tilt for the grand opening. Some restaurants are open for extended hours for the opening week.

“They’re very busy,” she said. “Opening day is a unique event in and of itself. A typical Monday we won’t experience these volumes.”

There are currently eight unique restaurants, three bars and three retail shops. An additional restaurant may open in the summer, followed by a 17,000-square-foot convention space in the fall.

The casino is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As luck would have it, traffic near La Center was mostly clear Tuesday. But Trooper Will Finn, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said the weekend could still be challenging.

“I anticipate traffic increases on Fridays and Saturdays for the next few weeks,” he said. “Will it be as dynamic as yesterday? I don’t know. I don’t anticipate it will be like (Monday) again.”

Fox-LaRose said the casino could average 8,000 to 10,000 visitors daily, but expects “a lot of energy” for its first weekend. The casino has 3,200 parking spaces and recently added more flaggers to direct traffic.

Ilani has a building capacity of about 13,500 people. Currently, there is no shuttle service except for employees, who park at the Clark County Fairgrounds, and people who park in overflow lots.

Those lots filled up Monday within 90 minutes of the casino’s opening. Cars snaked from two roundabouts nearby, down the freeway onramp and all the way to where I-5 meets Interstate 205.

“Yesterday was a little overwhelming,” Finn said. One collision, one fender-bender and a stalled vehicle added to the traffic woes, he said.

Ilani contracted engineering firm Kittelson & Associates to manage its traffic plans. The casino, which projects to bring in more than 4 million visitors every year, also rebuilt the nearby I-5 exit to bear the traffic.

Troopers met with casino officials Monday night and Tuesday morning to tweak parking procedures. Finn, who attended the Tuesday morning meeting, said the current parking situation couldn’t be changed to definitively prevent a logjam like Monday’s from happening again.

“They ran out of parking yesterday which I don’t even know if that’s something that can be addressed,” he said. “They had one lane going across the new overpass and everyone was in a single-file line going across.”

Traffic jams of that magnitude can create problems for fire trucks and ambulances in case of an emergency, he said.

The casino at 368,000 square feet is the largest and nearest casino to the Vancouver-Portland metro area. It holds 75 card tables and 2,500 slot machines. A 400-room hotel is planned to be built and likely to break ground in two to three years.