LA CENTER — Matt Hess took a three-month class to learn how to become a table games dealer about 20 years ago at The Last Frontier Casino and decided he’d found his career calling.
Not too long ago, Hess, 47, felt the tempting tug of ilani. The $550 million casino is located on the Cowlitz Indian Reservation next to Interstate 5, less than three miles from The Last Frontier. It would need plenty of employees for its April 2017 opening.
About half of Hess’ fellow table games dealers at The Last Frontier decided to go work for the new casino. Hess decided he would not be one of them. He stayed, in part, because he felt more at home with his long-time employer. It’s like a family, he said.
Also, he wanted to help ensure The Last Frontier would survive.
“I look at it as a David and Goliath situation,” Hess said.
The Last Frontier turned 30 years old in November, an occasion that prompted its management to celebrate among staff and customers and to encourage news stories about the milestone. But its leaders acknowledge they have a challenge ahead as they seek to chart a course for another 30 years or more.
The conditions facing The Last Frontier also affect the only other surviving La Center cardroom, The Palace. And those businesses are in the same quandary as other nontribal gaming facilities in the state. Where once there were 105 cardrooms in 2005 generating $302 million in net gambling receipts, there were 71 at the end of last year. They accounted for about $257 million — a 15 percent decrease in net receipts.