Tribes begin work on new Omak Casino

Omak – Clutching brand new shovels and wearing bright white hard hats, leaders of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation on Monday dug into the earth on a site just off Highway 97, where next summer a new USD 24 million Omak Casino will open for business.

At a time when its government departments have suffered major cutbacks due to declining revenues, the tribes‘ casinos continue to be the bright spot in the picture, tribal officials say.

The new casino will employ 250 people with a USD 4 million-a-year payroll, tribal officials estimate. It will generate about USD 20 million in revenue for Colville Tribal Enterprise Corp., which gives 80 percent of its gaming profits to provide tribal services.

The new casino won’t replace the nearby Okanogan Bingo Casino, which now employs 100 people and will become a bingo hall with a few gaming machines once the Omak Casino opens.

„Really, our savior has been the casino, for this corporation,“ John MacClain, chairman of CTEC, said in opening remarks. CTEC is owned and operated by the Colville tribes, and manages several businesses, including three casinos, lumber and plywood mills, a construction company and several tourist-related facilities.

Last year, casinos brought in one-third of CTEC‘s revenues, said CTEC spokeswoman Michelle Campobasso.

MacClain said the 58,000-square-foot casino — which will offer 400 to 500 gaming machines, game tables, a poker room, a players club, two restaurants and a lounge — is only the first phase of the Omak development. A hotel and conference center will follow.

And other new casinos are in the works, he said, noting the tribes have a compact with Washington state that allows six casinos. „There’s bigger and better to come,“ he said.

Tribal chairman Mike Marchand, who is also on CTEC‘s board of directors, said it took decades to plan this casino, including the tribes‘ efforts to retain its sovereignty and work out gambling compacts with Washington state.

„This is the first time we ever sat down with a bare piece of ground and a blank piece of paper and said, ‚What do we want to build?‘ “ he said.

Marchand said the casinos have been the tribes‘ most profitable venture.

Studies show the casinos can make twice as much money with nicer facilities.

Campobasso said all three of the tribes‘ casinos have remodeled their facilities, with profitable results.

„All three casinos seem to be doing much better with the remodeling jobs,“ she said. „There’s a lot of positive changes happening in the gaming industry, and the revenue and profits show that,“ she said.

For Colville members, the casinos not only offer jobs that provide USD 9.6 million in payroll, they also support more than 1,000 vendors and make huge contributions to local communities.

Leaders said some tribal members worry because the property had flooded in past years. It’s located on the southern edge of Omak between Highway 97 and the Okanogan River. But before construction begins, the ground will be raised to prevent flooding, they said.

Before 17 shovels broke the ground, Tribal elder Andy Joseph Sr. offered a prayer for the land with a special blessing for those who are having a tough time surviving, like single mothers.

He chanted „for the sake of our creator, our maker, the animals, the salmon, everything we have on this good earth of ours.“

„This is going to be the location of our casino, and a number of us elders were on the board when they were getting ready to plan it,“ Joseph said.

He later concluded, „We need it for jobs. We need it for employment. We need it for the sake of the people in our community.“