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June 12, 2003
Photo courtesy of Tulalip Tribes
The demand for slot machines has bolstered the growth of tribal casinos around the country. Tulalip Casino installed 2,000 video gaming machines, which are similar to slots, in its new building.
QUIL CEDA VILLAGE — The Tulalip Tribes opened its new $78 million casino a week ago today.
“This facility is a ‘wow!’” casino manager Chuck James said. “We’ve had Las Vegas types in here, and we’ve had our competition in here, and they all just say, ‘Wow!’”
The casino is in a new 227,000-square-foot building, just off Interstate 5 near Marysville. It has a 5,470-car parking lot.
It replaced the tribes’ 45,000-square-foot casino on Marine Drive, which is being converted into a bingo hall.
The new casino is a springboard in the tribes’ plans to build a destination resort with a hotel, an upscale mall, a recreational vehicle park and an aquatic-style amusement park. According to James, the next phase of construction could begin as soon as September.
While many other tribal casinos began as bingo halls and expanded into casinos, the new Tulalip casino was planned from the start as a casino, James said.
More tribes around the country are following suit, said Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno.
As slot machines have spread to reservations in Connecticut, California and other states in recent years, tribal gaming has taken off. Smaller, no-frills casinos built for table games have looked to rebuild to accommodate the new demand.
(In Washington, slot machines are technically illegal, but the state allows video games that resemble slots, minus the arm and clanking quarters.)
For many tribes, the huge expense is worth it, given the money to be made, Eadington said. At most casinos, “slot machines generate 80 percent of the revenues and 90 percent of the profits.”
The Tulalips took out a $130 million loan, one of the largest financing packages in state history, to finance the project.
They are gambling that the investment will be worth it, but it’s still a gamble.
“Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come,” said state Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip.
McCoy, senior director of governmental affairs for the Tulalips, notes the casino business is not recession-proof.
“We’re not rolling in dough like everyone thinks we are,” he said.
The Tulalips are grateful to the tribal elders who laid the path for the new casino, as well as to customers who have patronized their old casino for 10 years, treasurer Mel Sheldon Jr. said.
Construction began with a blessing by the tribes’ shaman before the groundbreaking about two years ago, and an additional blessing was given on opening night.
It remains to be seen if the blessings will be a boon to gamblers, but the Tulalips say their casino will have more payouts than Las Vegas casinos.
“We do like to have winners,” said Robyn Buckley, the tribes’ executive casino analyst. “They feel like they had a good time, and they want to come back.”
The federal Indian Regulatory Gaming Act of 1988 was created to give tribes an economic means to employ their people.
The Tulalips had 65 percent unemployment, the highest in the state, McCoy said.
Now, because of the casino, any tribal member who wants a job can have one, he said.
Casino profits are used for many things, including subsidizing the meal fees for casino workers, helping tribal high school graduates get into college and funding the Tulalips’ health and human services, including a new health clinic set to open Aug. 1.
The city of Marysville estimates that by full build-out in 2012, the casino will generate more than $27 million in employment income and $80 million in business sales.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.