Moses Lake tribal casino likely not in the cards

Council members play down possibility

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MOSES LAKE - A tribal casino in Moses Lake is on a list of projects that could be made possible by settlement funds received by Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

That does not mean the option is being seriously considered, according to Colville Business Council members.

The Colvilles are looking at several options for the $193 million settlement due from the U.S. government, resulting from a 2005 lawsuit alleging mismanagement of tribal trust funds and income-generating assets.

While 20 percent of the money will go directly to tribal members, the business council is now seeking input on how the remainder might be used.

This led Colville Business Councilmember Ricky Gabriel to compile a broad list of about 80 ideas - everything from biofuels production to building a casino in Moses Lake.

A portion of the list was made available to the Columbia Basin Herald by the Grand Coulee Star, which obtained the list prior to a closed tribal member meeting last week.

Among the dozens of ideas are transportation infrastructure upgrades, college scholarships, industrial park development and construction of a casino in Wenatchee or Leavenworth.

Gabriel referred to the list as a "community participation sheet" and said it is solely intended to generate options and get member input to aid in council discussion. He clarified the ideas are not in any particular order and the list is still being revised.

"A lot of these ideas are old - they pre-date me by many years," Gabriel said; adding the Moses Lake casino is "not even really being tossed around or anything, it's just an old idea that was there forever."

"Ricky did this on his own. He did not have the backing of the business council," said Michael Finley, the Colville's Business Council Chair. "We as a body agreed we were going to hear out the members first and at some point would begin the real planning on what we were going to do."

He said the list was never intended for public release, and inclusion of the Moses Lake casino idea has caused a lot of unnecessary confusion.

"It's really misleading and it's unfortunate that it ended up in there," he said. "The piece of land isn't even big enough for a casino even if we wanted to put one there. It would require a whole different trust process even if we did want to do gaming on it."

Finley was referring to a truck stop the Colvilles are planning to build on six acres of undeveloped Moses Lake property located just south of Interstate 90 on Wanapum Drive. The Colvilles last year applied with the U.S. government to have the land held in trust, meaning it would no longer be subject to state or local taxation or regulation. In order to bring the land into trust for use in gaming, the Colvilles would have to begin an entirely separate federal process.

Greg Argil is with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the agency charged with processing trust lands applications such as the Colville Tribes' truck stop request. He says approving an off-reservation casino is far more lengthy and complicated than people might realize.

"A tribe must prove the anticipated economic benefit of (an off-reservation casino)," Argil said. "The farther away from the tribe it is, the heavier the weight of comments by local governments. Moses Lake is about 38 miles from the furthest reaches of the Colville Tribes' boundaries."

The federal government has approved just five off-reservation casinos in the past 20 years, the Kalispel Tribe's Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights being one of them. The Spokane Tribe has, for years, been moving through the process of getting approval for its own off-reservation casino resort, dealing with dozens of regulatory hurdles and fierce opposition along the way.

But this isn't the first time the possibility of a Colville Tribal casino in Moses Lake has been raised. About five years ago the tribe briefly considered building a casino, golf course, hotel and possible campground at Moses Pointe.

"It died on the vine," said Ron Covey, who was mayor of Moses Lake at the time. "The tribe came to the city to see, if they were to purchase Moses Pointe, if the city would support them in their effort to get the land put into trust for a casino, convention center, marina, et cetera."

The Moses Lake City Council discussed the matter and held a couple meetings with Colville officials, but the plan was discarded after a new tribal council was elected, Covey said.

Recent rumors that the Colville Tribes plan to build a casino near Soap Lake are also unfounded, according to Finley. Last month he said the Colvilles did purchase several acres of lakefront property on Soap Lake, but have no immediate plans for its use.

"Soap Lake is a traditional cultural property for us, it has cultural significance for us with the healing waters," he said. "It made sense for us to have a piece of that for our members to use whenever they need to, going into the future. Right now we don't have any plans for it other than the fact that we wanted it to be available for our members to use when they want it."

The Colville Tribes currently operate casinos near the Grand Coulee Dam, on Lake Chelan and in Okanogan.

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