Federal Approval Phase Begins for First Tribal Casino in Tri-Cities, Washington

profile image of Dave Grendzynski
Geneal view showing the slot machines at a local casino. Stephane De Sakutin/AFP

The federal validation phase is underway in Washington State

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are moving forward with their plans. They want to build the first tribal casino in the Tri-Cities, which will be in Pasco, Franklin County. This marks the first time a tribal casino is being set up in Washington. Right now, they’re going through an important part of getting federal approval.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is the agency leading the review of the proposal. It has arranged a virtual public meeting on April 24 at 6 p.m. They are hoping to get suggestions for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). They have set May 3 as the last date to receive written comments. 

According to the American Bar Association, an Environmental Impact Assessment outlines how a proposed project might affect its surroundings. In the U.S., the law requires these reports for certain projects.

In the Tri-Cities area, you can find private casinos, but there are no tribal casinos. The closest tribal casinos are the Wildhorse Casino and Resort near Pendleton, Oregon and the Legends Casino & Hotel in Toppenish. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation run the Wildhorse Casino and Resort, while the Yakama tribe operates the Legends Casino & Hotel.

What Will Be Built on the Site

The Colville tribe is planning to construct a large casino that spans 184,200 square feet. They also plan to build a hotel with 200 rooms, an event center, several restaurants, and other necessary facilities.  

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a crucial part of the project review process, ensuring it complies with state and federal environmental laws. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is managing the intricate task of transferring 165 acres of land, owned by the Colville tribe and located north of the King City Truck Stop off Highway 395 and Kartchner Street, into a federal trust.

This transfer, known as the “Fee-to-Trust” process, allows the tribe to develop the casino, hotel, restaurants, and related businesses at sites that are not part of the reservation, as per the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

Expanding Casinos Was Always The Plan

In 2019, the Colville tribe made a significant investment in Pasco by purchasing four lots, which collectively span over 180 acres of cultivated land. This acquisition was specifically aimed at expanding their Twelve Tribes casino operation in the Tri-Cities. Additionally, they have plans to potentially develop a water park and tourism center.

Located about 75 miles from Ritzville, Colville also operates tribal casinos at Coulee Dam, Lake Chelan, and Omak. These casinos contribute significantly to the economic upliftment of their 8,700 members.

Pasco holds significant traditional value for Colville as it is the ancestral land of several of its constituent tribes, especially the Palus.

Not Everyone On Board 

Some people don’t like the proposed project. The group that is speaking out the most against it is the Yakama Nation, as reported by the Tri-City Herald.

Yakama is against the project because they already run a casino in Toppenish and they want to open another one, maybe in the Tri-Cities. They don’t agree with Colville’s plan to open a new casino because they believe that Colville doesn’t have the right to open a casino in the area that Yakama gave up in a treaty they signed in 1855.

But if the plan makes it through the federal approval phase, it will be a major step forward for its supporters.