Interlocal agreements prevent Spokane County Commissioners from commenting on the proposed casino.
Two years ago, before much was known about the proposed casino, the City of Airway Heights and Spokane County entered into a series of agreements with the Spokane Tribe about how much money the tribe would pay the city for services such as water and police, if the development was approved to move forward. These agreements are standard. What is alarming about this series of agreements is they contain a clause that requires the County to “remain neutral” in the federal approval process which will examine the Spokane Tribe’s special request to build this off-reservation casino. (To access the full document, follow the directions below.)
This neutrality clause prohibits the commissioners from taking a position on the casino and prevents them from participating in the federal approval process that specifically solicits feedback from local municipalities. The federal process, run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is tasked with studying whether the proposed casino development would cause detriment to the surrounding community. How can this process be legitimate when the elected officials who represent 471,221 county residents can’t speak?
The commissioners sent a letter to the City of Airway Heights (in August, 2012) stating that the neutrality language in those agreements “inappropriately denies the current Board of County Commissioners the ability to fulfill its legislative duties of office. We also believe it denies our constituents their proper voice in the public policy processes on matter directly affecting them.” They continued by stating since the signing of these agreements, the County and the rest of the public “now have a fuller understanding of the very real impacts our region is likely to incur if the Tribe is allowed to pursue their development.” They asked the City to immediately eliminate the neutrality clause from their agreements.
And, after testimony from the Spokane Tribe, objecting to the County request to be able to participate in the federal process and comment on the casino proposal, the City of Airway Heights voted to keep the commissioners gagged.
Citizens should be outraged that the City of Airway Heights and the Spokane Tribe are actively seeking to muzzle the Spokane County Commissioners from representing us.
The neutrality clause reads:
“The County agrees to remain “neutral” in conjunction with the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ (1) application to the United States Department of the Interior pursuant to the 25 U.S.C. sec. 2719(b)(1)(A) seeking a determination that the gaming activities on the Trust Property (i) is in the best interest of the Tribe and (ii) is not detrimental to the surround(ing) community, and (2) the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ seeking concurrence of the Governor in that determination. For the purpose of the Agreement, the terminology “neutral” shall mean not submitting any written communication to any official of the United States Department of the Interior, the Office of the Governor, or any other entities taking a position in support or in opposition to gaming activities on the Trust Property.”
Read the full text of the agreement on the County website.
- go to the County Commisioners’ website http://www.spokanecounty.org/commissioners/content.aspx?c=1038
- scroll to the bottom and click on “Resolution Directory” link (in the “Finding Resolutions, Agendas, or other Documents” section)
- click through “I agree” to the disclaimer
- enter agenda date “08/17/2010″ into the search form, click “search”
- scroll through the agenda documents to page 3 of the items
- click on the “Details” button for the one describing execution of the documents between Airway heights and Spokane tribe of Indians
- in the details screen, click on “Images” at the bottom, and the full item with all the agreements comes up.
How it Could Fuel the Expansion of Gaming
An unwanted precedent.
If the Bureau of Indian Affairs and entire Department of Interior approve the Spokane Tribe’s proposed off-reservation casino, it could set a dangerous new precedent for Washington State and the country. If the Federal government begins approving off-reservation casinos for Tribes that simply want better market locations, many other Tribes will apply. Washington has 29 tribes and already has the largest number of tribal casinos after California and Oklahoma. Our economic vitality and reputation as a region will suffer if we become tied to the gaming industry and our state becomes labeled as casino country. Once the precedent is set, it can’t be taken back.
The Spokane Tribe: changing the rules of gambling.
In proposing to build their casino off-reservation, the Spokane Tribe is attempting to skirt the edges of the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA) of 1988 (P.L. 100-497, 102 Stat. 2475) which prohibits off-reservation gaming except in rare circumstances, making off-reservation casinos the exception and not the rule.
The Spokane Tribe believes that the law gives them a free pass to open a casino wherever they want, whenever they want. That simply isn’t true. While the law established a process by which Tribes could move off-reservation, it isn’t a free pass to seek out a better market location—if it was, in the 23 years since Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act more than a handful of Tribes would been granted the ability to open a casino beyond the boundaries of their reservation.
The IGRA contemplates certain narrow circumstances that allow for off-reservation gaming when a Tribe faces severe economic restrictions. There have been only five Tribes in the entire nation that have been granted this special exception.
For more information about the IGRA, please go to the National Indian Gaming Commission website: http://www.nigc.gov/Laws_Regulations/Indian_Gaming_Regulatory_Act.aspx
The Spokane Tribe has not earned the trust of our community.
The Spokane Tribe has shown its colors amidst controversies and their shifting intentions.
The Spokanes were the last tribe in Washington to operate casinos without a compact with the state. They also had popular Las Vegas-style coin slot machines, which are banned in Washington, at their casinos. The Spokane Tribe let that situation deteriorate to the point where U.S. Marshals were forced to go to their casinos and confiscate the machines.
When the Spokanes acquired the land now in question, they maintained that they did not intend to build a casino on it. Today they are aggressively pursuing a casino. While the Spokane Tribe may be able to change its mind, it shouldn’t be able to change the rules.
The Spokane Tribe already has casinos they can expand.
The Spokane Tribe already operates the Two Rivers Casino and the Chewelah Casino. They can expand either in any way they want, yet they are telling our community that they can’t be successful. This simply isn’t true. The Coeur d’ Alene Tribe has built a destination casino and resort near Worley, Idaho that is very successful. Their remote location is approximately the same distance from Spokane as the Spokane Tribe’s existing casinos.
All the Spokane Tribe wants is another casino closer to a city center.
Even though the Spokane Tribe has the ability today to start developing the other restaurant spaces, medical office spaces, police and fire station space, and other various properties listed in their STEP proposal on their Airway Heights land, they have not done so. What they really want is another casino, closer to the Spokane population. The casino is the only part of the development which requires Federal approval.
A Threat to Fairchild Air Force Base
The danger of encroachment.
The proposed casino from the Spokane Tribe could endanger our region’s single largest employer with an economic impact of approximately $421 million*: Fairchild Air Force Base. In its 2009 Joint Land Use Study, Fairchild stated that Encroachment, land use and compatibility issues that arise as urban developments move closer to military bases and operational areas, can have negative impacts on community safety, economic development, and sustainability of military activities and readiness. These risks are specific to Fairchild AFB in the coming years because new refueling tankers will be needed for the new planes, but encroachment issues around the base could jeopardize the acquisition of tankers necessary for the base to function. Even though the proposed development complies with the technical requirements under JLUS, a development that will bring high-density gatherings of people so close to the base is a bad thing for the future of Fairchild and its growth. The jobs that can come to Fairchild as the base expands over time are worth far more in value to the community than any new casino jobs.
The JLUS study explicitly states that “This threat to military readiness activities is one of the military’s greatest concerns.” Encroachment has closed other major bases, such as:
- Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Irvine, CA: mission
- McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, CA:
CLOSED in 2001
*As of 2007
Full JLUS available here: http://www.spokanecounty.org/bp/content.aspx?c=2298
Full Environmental Impact Statement: http://www.westplainseis.com/documents/Scoping_Report-Appendices.pdf
Five ways the Spokane Casino development could encroach on Fairchild.
The development of the Spokane Tribe’s massive, 2.2 million square foot, 13-story proposed gaming hotel complex one mile from the base and in the flight path threatens it with the very type of encroachment the military is most worried about. Specifically, the Spokanes’ proposed casino could:
- Create noise related problems
- Increase risk of safety and operational hazard
- Impact the quality of life for military personnel and their families
- Impact the use of the base by transient aircraft
- Impact the ability of Fairchild to expand for other missions and joint basing
We can’t take Fairchild for granted.
The military looks at base closures on an ongoing basis. BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) is a U.S. federal government process to close excess military installations and realign the total asset inventory to reduce expenditures.
More than 350 military installations have been closed in past BRAC rounds (1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005.)
The last BRAC, completed in 2005, recommended that the next round of closures be announced in 2015. Even if the full impact of the casino is not felt by this time, its presence will continue to add to the threat of encroachment over time.
Fairchild was placed on the preliminary list of alternatives for closure in the 1993 BRAC round.
The Department of Defense considers several factors when closing or realigning bases, including, “the availability and condition of land, facilities and associated airspace” as well as “the ability to accommodate contingency, mobilization, surge, and future total force requirements.” The proposed Spokane casino would be a direct threat and could easily put Fairchild on the BRAC list again.
Fairchild AFB contributes $200 million in payroll for military personnel and civilians, spends over $140 million and creates over 1,900 jobs with a value of over $65 million. It isn’t something we can afford to lose.
(Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission – www.brac.gov)
McClellan Air Force Base Closure
Encroachment has closed bases and weakened regions before. Among the eight major criteria that the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) uses in determining the ‘military value’ of bases, two criterion refer to availability and condition of land and airspace, and the ability to accommodate mobilization, surges or future total forces. The McClellan Air Force base in Sacramento, California, which operated since 1935 through four major wars, was closed based on these encroachment criteria in 2001.
McClellan faced an ever-expanding suburb, sharing increasing airspace with four local airports and noise opposition from residential developers in the area. Without space and autonomy to execute effective training and development, the base’s value was inherently diminished and closed.
The region’s economy paid a significant price. Following the 1995 BRAC announcement of the closure, some estimates claimed that over 30,000 jobs would be lost in the community if the base were to close. Despite the massive community outcry to save the base including a personal visit from President Clinton, the base was eventually put on track for closure by 2001.
As the closure of McClellan Air Force Base exemplifies, encroachment can be the determining factor in the loss of a region’s most powerful economic engine. We cannot afford to lose Fairchild Air Force Base this way; the needs of the Spokane region outweigh those of the Spokane Tribe.
Gambling is Harmful to the Region
Gambling has no positive economic impact.
“(Gambling) involves simply sterile transfers of money or goods between individuals, creating no new money or goods. Although it creates no output, gambling does nevertheless absorb time and resources. When pursued beyond the limits of recreation, where the main purpose after all is to kill time, gambling subtracts from the national income.” –Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson
Building a casino will hurt the region.
- Local residents who might otherwise go to
local restaurants will instead spend their money at the casino, meaning the
casino will have no net economic benefit.
- Out of town visitors who might otherwise spend
money on other local activities within the region will instead choose to spend
their money at the casino, detracting from other businesses.
- Casinos buy more products from out of state
than from local vendors.
- Although some jobs are created, others are
lost when local businesses are cannibalized by the gambling industry.
(California State Library, California Research Bureau) http://www.library.ca.gov/CRB/97/03/Chapt9.html
Gaming-based economies have been unsuccessful.
Case Study: Atlantic City. The success of gambling in Atlantic City has done little to revitalize the city and its business community. Atlantic City is often described as “two cities”: a city of casinos and a city of boarded-up buildings with an unemployed minority workforce. Since 1977, the number of restaurants in Atlantic City has dropped by 40%, mainly because locals and visitors don’t have to venture far from the casino for dining options. (California State Library, California Research Bureau)
Case Study: Mississippi. After the Legislature legalized gambling in Mississippi to promote the development of the Mississippi delta, crime skyrocketed, and by some reports, most casino jobs went to workers from out of state. (“Mississippi Monte Carlo: Gambling Industry in Tunica County,”The Atlantic Monthly, January 1996) http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1996/01/monte-carlo-mississippi/6245/
Case Study: Colorado. Three years after Colorado legalized limited stake casinos, residents were complaining of traffic, crime, noise and air pollution. One year later, 21 of 68 casinos had closed their doors and have since moved into bankruptcy. The growth of casinos and rising property taxes led to a decline in non-casino business. The City Manager of Central City, one of the cities with legal gaming was quoted as saying, “I’d tell anyone who was thinking of opening their community to casino gambling to have his head examined.” (California State Library, California Research Bureau)
Transportation & Infrastructure
The addition of another major facility in Airway Heights the size and scope of the proposed casino will place a variety of strains on the infrastructure and resources of the Airway Heights community. Most noticeable will be the sizeable increase in traffic when many business owners along Sunset are already fearful of current traffic levels, but the demand for water in the already strained area will burden the West Plains with a possible water shortage. Public safety is also a major concern when dealing with casinos that can attract large groups of adults gambling and consuming alcohol late into the night.
Demand a Fair Process
The Spokanes have repeatedly sought to break and bend the rules for their own benefit on gaming issues. They have operated without an agreement with the State of Washington for over a decade then claimed they had no interest in construction of a casino on the land in question upon its purchase. Today, they’re trying to railroad the community into accepting a casino that has huge implications for the future of Spokane. This community must demand a fair and open process to make sure all of our questions are answered before the Spokanes are allowed to move forward.
Local Taxpayers Left Holding the Bag
Recent media coverage of the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino has identified how much they could end up paying for it, but a closer look at the agreement between the Spokane Tribe, the City of Airway Heights and Spokane County raises serious questions about what the Tribe’s actual commitment is to paying the true costs of the impacts of their development.
The Tribe has entered into an agreement with both the City and the County that call for it to make cash payments to local governments in exchange for certain services. Under the agreement, City and County taxpayers are required to provide: sewer and water service, regular street repair and maintenance, first responder services, and access to local courts for the prosecution of crime. The problem is that the agreement allows the Tribe to wait to make payment after their massive gaming complex is built and taxpayers are already on the hook.
In their Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Spokane Tribe, the City and County commit to unconditional support for the Spokanes’ casino project, as illustrated below:
The MOA has also built in two conditions as a basis for withholding payments. The first relates to projected revenue targets, and the second to their profits:
- Section 8.2: This section of the MOA between the Spokane Tribe and the City and County says that if the Tribe does not meet certain revenue targets that they reserve the right to modify the amount they pay the local governments for the services they receive. That may sound reasonable enough, but it’s not, because under the terms of the agreement the City and County governments signed, the Tribe gets to keep those numbers secret until after their massive casino is built.
- Section 8.3: The MOA also says that if the Spokane Tribe does not realize a whopping 25% profit from their gaming operations that they can change the amount they pay to the City and County. Is a 25% profit reasonable? We have no idea, because again, the numbers aren’t available.
Local taxpayers have no way of knowing whether or not the agreement their leaders signed onto is based on realistic numbers or not, but they can be certain that their tax dollars will be used to fight crime, respond to emergencies, repair roads, and supply water and sewer services to the casino for years to come. The bottom line is that City and County taxpayers got a bad deal and could be left holding the bag.
Public Opinion Survey Washington State Gambling Commission
In 2011, the Washington State University Social & Economic Sciences Research Center (WSU) surveyed 532 residents by telephone to learn about gambling practices of Washington State residents, their knowledge of gambling regulation, and their opinions on a range of policy issues.
Results concluded that 88 percent of Washingtonians don’t want gambling expanded in our state, and furthermore, 48 percent of respondents said that gambling should be made less available than it currently is.
To view the full report, click here.
For more information about Citizens Against Casino Expansion and its concerns with the Spokane Tribe’s proposed off-reservation casino or to sign your name to the growing list of business and community leaders joining the group, please write: