After more than a decade of effort, the Cowlitz Indian Reservation has now been able to open their $510 million casino. The Ilani Casino Resort opened today, welcoming guests beginning at 10 a.m. after a ribbon cutting and ceremony took place. Located close to La Center, the casino venue will offer gaming, entertainment and dining 24/7.
Players who visit the new gaming facility will have access to 2,500 slot machines and 75 card tables. The gaming floor is 100,000 square feet in size with a portion of the area set aside for non-smokers. A high tech ventilation system was installed to keep the air clean on the gaming floor. Shops and restaurants offer retail and dining opportunities on-site.
The casino is expected to be quite popular with the possibility of 4.5 million visitors a year. Over 3,000 parking spaces were placed on the property to be able to handle the influx of traffic. Early this morning, traffic was already backed up on Interstate 5 as patrons made their way to the venue. During the first week of operations, the casino is set to host a free concert each night through Sunday.
Speaking with the Seattle Times, William Iyall, the Chairman of the Cowlitz Tribe, stated that opening day is victory for the tribe. Iyall called the event a triumphant moment for the tribe as it marks an end to the 160 year journey back to their homeland and a beginning of a new journey.
Going back to 1855, the leaders of the Cowlitz Tribe refused to sign a treaty and move to a reservation site. Tribal members would soon scatter and it would be decades later before members would try to convince the federal Interior Department to give the tribe legal status. The tribe would be granted such status in 2000.
Five years ago, the tribe began to face serious opposition to their proposed casino as the decision by the Interior Department was challenged. The tribe was given 152 acres of land west of La Center as their tribal reservation. The reservation helped start the tribe on their journey to create the casino.
By the summer of 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided to reject arguments from opponents and found that the Interior Department was right in their decision and the Cowlitz tribe was recognized and the rightful owners of the property.