Openings & Closings

Cowlitz Tribe announces April 24 opening for long-awaited casino

Gaming machines at the ilani Casino Resort in Ridgefield, Washington. Photo: ilani

After more than a decade of work, the Cowlitz Tribe is finally ready to open its long-awaited casino.

The $510 million ilani Casino Resort debuts on April 24. The 368,000 square-foot facility offers 2,500 slot machines, 75 table games and 15 restaurants, bars and retail outlets.

“We are extremely pleased to open the doors to ilani and provide the local community with a source for economic growth,” Chairman Bill Iyall said in a press release. “Our destination is expected to attract over 4.5 million visitors a year, and we feel certain that local businesses will benefit from increased visitation in the area.”

The opening is highly significant for Indian Country. The tribe's land-into-trust application was the first gaming acquisition approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.

According to the 2009 decision, the BIA can acquire land for tribes but only for those that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934. Opponents claimed the Cowlitz didn't qualify because federal recognition didn't come until 2000.

The BIA, however, determined that the tribe met the test because Cowlitz ancestors negotiated a treaty with the United States and engaged in other government-to-government activities since the late 1800s. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the agency's approach in a unanimous decision last summer.

Opponents asked the Supreme Court to overturn the decision but the justices refused to take the case. In doing so, they ensured that the BIA can continue to place land into trust for tribes that it deems to have been "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934 even if formal recognition didn't come until much later.

Read More on the Story:
Ilani casino sets opening date: April 24 (The Columbian 4/14)
Ilani casino to open April 24 (The Longview Daily News 4/14)
Ilani Casino opening day announced (The Oregonian 4/14)
Agreements to bring law and order to casino (The Columbian 4/17)

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon v. Jewell (July 29, 2016)

Federal Register Notices:
Cowlitz Indian Tribe Liquor Ordinance (March 23, 2017)
Proclaiming Certain Lands as Reservation for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe (November 13, 2015)
Land Acquisitions; Cowlitz Indian Tribe (May 8, 2013)

Department of the Interior Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

Related Stories:
Cowlitz Tribe unveils $32M highway project as casino debut nears(April 5, 2017
Indian Country secures victory with end to long-running land case (April 3, 2017)
Cowlitz Tribe thanks Secretary Zinke as casino opening approaches (April 3, 2017)
Cowlitz Tribe brings even more food options to forthcoming casino (March 31, 2017)
Cowlitz Tribe brings Michael Jordan's Steakhouse to new casino (March 28, 2017)
Cowlitz Tribe secures approval to offer liquor as casino debut nears (March 22, 2017)