Fire on the Hearth… In May? And a trip to the maligned ilani

Yes mother’s day morning the mother of my children decided a fire was in order. My thermometer decided to dip all the way into the very bottom of the 40s and that left a bit of a ‘nip’ in the air. Come on already it is mid-May for heaven’s sake. We are cool, wet, and not seeing much in the way of warm spring weather. But alas, that is just the nature of things sometimes in the Northwest.

picture of casino interiorWe decided to check out the ilani casino up in La Center / Ridgefield. This of course was a project that faced some stiff opposition from local governments including Clark County and the City of Vancouver. Those entities formed a lawsuit with additional plaintiffs from La Center’s small casinos, the Grande Ronde Tribe that runs Oregon’s biggest casino, and a watchdog group opposed to “reservation shopping.”

The Grand Ronde tribe tried to convince the courts they had more “influence” over the Clark County area because the Cowlitz indians were based further north near Kelso. Seriously? Kelso is about 25 miles from the La Center casino which itself is less than 4 miles from the Cowlitz County line. Cowlitz as in “Cowlitz indians”. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde is based near Salem in Grande Ronde, OR and runs all the way down to Mount Shasta. The Grande Ronde have connections in Molalla, OR but that is still much further away from La Center than Kelso / Longview. Grande Ronde, Oregon is some 90 miles from La Center, WA. Sorry, but I think that was quite the reach and it was probably all about money and not territorial rights.

The local small casinos that are in Downtown La Center operate under the Washington State Card Room laws and thus are not part of the Indian Gaming system. They are subject to far more regulation at the state level as Washington is not like Nevada when it comes to gaming. These guys were also protecting their bottom line and two of the four casinos are now gone, likely due to market pressure generated by the new ilani. The remaining two hopefully will be able to make a run of it by providing things the big ilani facility cannot. Perhaps awesome deals on the buffet or better values on drinks, etc. The ilani is not cheap on the food and drink side of things. We shall see. Many people may prefer the smaller and more intimate experience offered in Downtown La Center.

The group, “Citizens Against Reservation Shopping” is self-explanatory, they don’t like the idea of Native American tribes ‘shopping’ for reservation land to skirt around the legalities of casinos in Washington State. I get that actually, but in this case they lost the legal fight. Their argument was not without merit, but the courts ruled in favor of the tribe all the way up the ladder till the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.

But what about the ‘Couv’? What was their beef with the Cowlitz Indians? According to a report in the Columbian (whose owner opposes the Casino), Vancouver’s original opposition is based in a now ten or eleven year old city resolution the paper summed up as:

  • The tribe has offered inadequate mitigation for the projected increase in problem gambling;
  • The tribe made no commitment to offset the project’s effects on affordable housing in Vancouver; and
  • The project would add to traffic congestion on I-5.

First, the problem of gambling, OK that is a real concern regardless of where a casino is built so I suppose I can agree with that at least on face value if the allegation is true.

Second, complaining that 1000-1500 new jobs is hurting affordable housing is like complaining bottled water is hurting the soda industry. Vancouver should embrace jobs and if affordable housing is important (I believe it is by the way) then the city needs to address that, and they can start with a reduction in the outrageous impact fees THEY assess to builders trying to build said affordable housing.

Finally, traffic impacts? Hmm, Vancouver really can’t go there. Seriously, 70% of Clark County residents live in or immediately adjacent to, the ‘Couv’.  I’m pretty sure our traffic problems are our own. The city didn’t seem to mind the HUGE expansion of the Clark County Fairgrounds into the “Clark County Event Center”. The fabulous 18,000 person capacity concert venue creates massive traffic congestion multiple times throughout the concert season. This place is actually immediately adjacent to Vancouver neighborhoods such as Salmon Creek and Mount Vista. I was unable to find any reference to a lawsuit with the City of Vancouver as plaintiff and the Clark County Events Center and or the Amphitheater operator as defendant.

Two out of three are weak sauce arguments based in mostly bullshit. I think the city was all wet in their opposition to this casino.

picture of casino interiorWell it’s done and it’s open so we all should either try to enjoy it or ignore it. I am not really a big casino type guy. Gambling is not my thing. However the facility is quite nice and it is really big. They intend to add additional convention and entertainment space along with a hotel down the line. We can enjoy the attraction’s draw of talent and restaurants such as the Michael Jordan Steakhouse that opened with the casino.

I am fine with it and I think that La Center will find a way to turn the negative into a positive over time. For starters the ilani is split into roughly 60/40 smoking and non-smoking. Since smokers are only about 16-17% of the population this seems like an egregious oversight. The casino seems to have excellent ventilation and controls the smoke well, there was virtually none, but the faint smell of tobacco remains. Remember the tribe operates on sovereign land, so state and local smoking restrictions are not enforceable. The casinos in downtown La Center are non-smoking, so right away they can play that card to the local public, punned the hell of that I did 😉 I wish the local operators of the small La Center casinos the very best in their efforts to continue business with this new competition nearby.

Meanwhile we ‘Couvians’ will just have to try to enjoy another big attraction in our wonderful Clark County. Oh, yes, this thing is big, very big my friends. The casino floor is 100,000 square feet and that by itself is about the size of an average Walmart store. The total project is some 368,000 square feet and that is about a third the size of the whole Westfield Vancouver Mall. Yikes!

It is quite nice in design and the trim level is posh, to say the least. This casino is as big as most of the casinos that line the Las Vegas strip. It is more than half the size of Vegas’ largest casino the MGM Grand that boasts a gaming floor of 170,000 square feet.

With the help of the Cowlitz business partners including the successful Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut, I hope they can build a place that is family friendly and offers more than just gambling to the community at large. If they can pull that off, we will all be better off and all of this anger and grief may fade away.

Ah the ‘Couv’ life; it is good, even with a mega casino ten miles up the road.

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