A bipartisan group of 16 Washington legislators including Sen. Mark Schoesler recently joined to send a pointed letter to Gov. Jay Inslee opposing the Spokane Tribe’s proposal to build an off-reservation casino in Airway Heights.
In their letter the lawmakers express strong concerns about the federal process under way and the implications of what making the wrong decision could mean for the Spokane region and Washington. They urge Inslee to take swift action to oppose the Spokane Tribe’s proposal.
“The local community overwhelmingly opposes the Spokane Tribe’s proposal to build this off-reservation casino because of the deeply negative impacts it would have,” said Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “From placing Fairchild Air Force Base in jeopardy to imposing more burdens on already struggling local jurisdictions, this casino proposal is a bad deal.
“It’s also deeply troubling how the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ work on this proposal so far seems to be ignoring the negative effects on our region. Going forward, the BIA should more accurately reflect the facts and impacts that would be felt on the ground, in the community, and reach the conclusion that the Spokane Tribe’s project should not move forward.”
The Spokane Tribe has asked the BIA for a rare exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that prohibits tribes from developing casinos on property acquired after 1988. To have that request approved the tribe must prove that the casino would be in the best interests of the tribe and not detrimental to the local community. If the BIA approves the Spokane Tribe’s application it would go to Inslee for final determination.
Spokane County, the City of Spokane and the City of Cheney have all officially opposed the Spokane Tribe’s proposal because of the direct negative effects it would have on local communities and the threat it poses to Fairchild AFB. Additionally, civic groups such as Greater Spokane Inc. and Forward Fairchild have also been outspoken in their opposition to the casino proposal due to risks and concerns identified by Fairchild, including the proximity to aircraft traffic patterns, large concentrations of people and the potential for aircraft crashes or related mishaps.
Schoesler noted the other legislators signing the letter to Inslee are from legislative districts around the state, signaling statewide concern about the decision’s implications for Washington. The Spokane Tribe, with more than 150,000 acres of reservation land, already operates two casinos, one of which is off-reservation, and is wanting to locate a third casino on property it purchased in 2002.
“Allowing the Spokane Tribe’s proposal to go forward puts all of our local communities at risk,” Schoesler said. “If the Department of the Interior green-lights this project and ignores the views expressed by the local community it would set a precedent for allowing gaming to expand all across the state.”