La Center’s New Phoenix Casino closing

Cardroom lost many employees to Ilani Casino; Last Frontier will remain open

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

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Another of La Center’s cardrooms is folding.

The New Phoenix Casino will close Sunday. Casino spokesman John Bockmier said the casino, which opened in 1991, could no longer withstand diminishing sales and an exodus of employees.

“Our labor pool is diminishing,” he said. “We have employees leaving us and going to (Ilani Casino Resort). It’s a very skilled job. There are a limited number of people who can do it.”

Employees were told Wednesday, he said.

The Last Frontier Casino — which is owned by George Teeny along with the New Phoenix — will remain open, but it’s unclear whether it will be able to take on any of the workers. Bockmier said the situation was very much “in flux.”

The Cowlitz Tribe broke ground on its $510 million, 368,000-square-foot casino in January 2016. The casino will employ more than 1,000 workers, including hundreds to man its 75 gaming tables.

Besides staffing concerns, Bockmier said New Phoenix saw a slowdown in customers due to the construction around Interstate 5, which is also related to the new casino. The tribe agreed to rebuild the Exit 16 interchange to accommodate an estimated 4.5 million visitors per year, according to the casino.

“Sales have reduced. There has been construction on the interchange for months and months, and that doesn’t help traffic get to the business, either,” Bockmier said.

The New Phoenix and Last Frontier casinos employed 300 people combined at their peak, Bockmier said. A current headcount was not available.

The closure of New Phoenix marks the second cardroom to close in the past three years. Chips Casino, owned by Steve Michels, closed in January 2014. Michels’ other La Center cardroom, the Palace Casino, remains open.

Officials from the city of La Center, which has relied on taxes from the cardrooms, were not available for comment Thursday.