Effect of Cowlitz casino on Tribe not as dire as feared so far

When the Cowlitz Tribe opened its new casino, ilani, in late April, Grand Ronde Tribal representatives and Spirit Mountain Casino executives braced for a possible catastrophic downturn in casino business and revenue.

Ilani, if nothing else, has location, location, location, being only 15 miles north of the Vancouver-Portland metropolitan area off heavily traveled Interstate 5.

However, after three full months of competition, Tribal Council Chairman Reyn Leno, who also sits on the Spirit Mountain Gaming. Inc. Board of Directors, reported at the Tuesday, Aug. 1, Legislative Action Committee meeting that the casino’s revenues are remaining competitive with those of 2016 – a record revenue year.

Tribal representatives have always been unsure what effect the Cowlitz casino would have on Spirit Mountain, which had been the closest casino to the Portland metropolitan area for two decades. Predictions were as dire as the Grand Ronde Tribe losing as much as $100 million annually.

In preparation, Tribal departments that use casino revenue to fund their programs were asked to pare 5 percent out of their 2017 budgets and Spirit Mountain’s projected revenue to the Tribe for the year was predicted to be almost 40 percent less than in 2016.

Leno said that current revenues are down 17 percent when compared to 2016, but if you compare current revenues to the casino’s five-year average, revenues are only down about 8 percent.

“The impacts are good,” Leno said while acknowledging the work of Spirit Mountain Casino General Manager Stan Dillon and his staff. “I know people said we didn’t have a plan out there, we weren’t doing our job. I believe our plan was a good plan. We’re showing that now. Obviously, we have a long ways to go.”

Leno said that if casino revenues transferred to the Tribe remain as strong throughout the rest of 2017 that an estimated large use of Tribal reserves to backfill the budget will be unnecessary.

“If the numbers stay good, we will actually make that back,” Leno said. “We won’t have to take that out of our other funds.”

Dillon traditionally updates the membership on the casino’s status during the September General Council meeting, which will be held 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10.