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Cowlitz close to gaming rights amid suit contesting LaCenter casino

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The Cowlitz Indian Tribe has tentatively been granted a Gaming Compact by the State Gambling Commission to build a casino on tribe-owned land near LaCenter, though development of the property remains contested in federal court.

The commission announced April 8 the proposed compact would allow up to two facilities featuring “Las Vegas-style” gaming, and a hearing has been scheduled for May 8 in Tumwater to take testimony regarding the compact.

After the hearing, the compact would need to be signed by Governor Jay Inslee and Cowlitz Chairman William Iyall, though Iyall said his tribe will likely be leasing their gaming rights in the short term rather than putting them to use in light of ongoing suits against the establishment of their reservation.

After the tribe was officially recognized by the federal government in 2000, plans began to establish a reservation on approximately 152 acres of undeveloped land west of La Center at I-5’s Exit 16. Though the Secretary of the Interior issued a Record of Decision in 2010 accepting the property in trust and allowing the establishment of a reservation, this decision was promptly challenged by a number of parties, including four La Center card room owners, two nearby property owners, the City of Vancouver, Clark County, Citizens Against Reservation Shopping, which was founded in direct opposition to the Cowlitz reservation, and The Grand Ronde Tribe of Oregon, owners of Spirit Mountain Casino.

The plaintiffs have argued the Cowlitz Tribe has no right to establish a reservation according to a 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court in Carcieri v. Salazar, which concluded only those tribes recognized by the federal government prior to passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 may do so.

The Cowlitz argue they have related as a tribe to the federal government since undergoing treaty negotiations back in 1855, with Iyall adding it is merely their intent to be treated the same as other tribes in the state, and his people are hoping to acquire sovereign land of their own after going without for 150 years.

While it was reported last year the suit was expected to be brought to trial by this spring, Iyall stated last week the suit remains ongoing and a resolution is anticipated by the end of the summer.

In the mean time, Iyall said it is the tribe’s intent to begin putting their gambling rights, if awarded, to use by leasing them out to other tribes, a practice the Gambling Commission said is accounted for under state law. Iyall said leasing of the rights is not an uncommon practice, as the more-than 20 recognized tribes in the state each have gambling allotments, while most lease them out to eight tribes currently operating casinos throughout the state.

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