LA CENTER — The New Phoenix Casino, a fixture in La Center since 1991, will close its doors to the public on Sun., March 26.
John Bockmier, a spokesman for the New Phoenix and Last Frontier Casinos, said the closure of the La Center card room is directly related to the expected opening of the Cowlitz Tribe’s ilani Casino, which is rumored to be opening April 24.
“This is a direct product of the impact of the opening of the ilani,’’ said Bockmier, a Vancouver-based consultant who represents George Teeny, the owner of both the New Phoenix and Last Frontier. “We have a diminished labor pool of employees due to the fact that many are leaving to work at the ilani. Sales are also down and there’s been construction at the (La Center I-5) junction for months and months and months.’’
Employees at the New Phoenix were informed of the decision to close the casino on Wednesday and La Center Mayor Greg Thornton shared the news at the city council meeting late the same night.
As the days have neared to the expected opening of the ilani Casino, Bockmier says more and more employees are leaving the La Center card rooms to go to work for the Cowlitz Tribe’s casino, which will boast a 100,000-square-foot gambling floor with 2,500 slot machines, 75 table games and a high-stakes gaming room in addition to its planned dining/retail space with 15 restaurants, bars and retail stores.
“The ability to get skilled workers in the gaming industry is limited in this community,’’ Bockmier told ClarkCountyToday.com.
Bockmier was unable to confirm how many employees had left the New Phoenix and Last Frontier casinos in recent months or how many would be affected by the decision to close the New Phoenix, which also includes the closure of a chinese restaurant in the same building. Bockmier said there were no immediate plans for the use of the building that served as home to the New Phoenix for the past 26 years.
Bockmier said he is hopeful the Last Frontier Casino, which first opened in La Center in 1987, would continue to thrive in spite of the upcoming opening of the ilani Casino.
“We intend to continue to make the Last Frontier the first choice for our customers,’’ he said. “We remain very optimistic about the future.’’
The closure of the New Phoenix Casino will leave La Center with two card rooms. In addition to the Last Frontier, the Palace Casino still operates in the city. The Chips Casino, a companion to the Palace, closed its doors in January of 2014.
Revenue reports of the La Center card rooms were not immediately available. However, city of La Center leaders planned for a 50 percent loss in card room revenues this year. In 2016, La Center received $2,710,000 in gambling taxes collected from the city’s three card rooms. La Center’s total revenue for 2016 was $6,050,988.
La Center received $3,190,368 in gambling tax revenue from the card rooms in 2011. The city budgeted just $1,555,000 in expected gambling tax revenue in 2017, with the anticipation that one of the three casinos would close during the year. The city estimates that gambling tax revenue will decline to $1,084,000 in 2018.
La Center leaders plan to make up for the loss of revenue by expanding its tax base with new commercial growth on city-owned property near the La Center I-5 junction. La Center council members recently approved an agreement with the Cowlitz Tribe that will provide the funds needed to expand service from the city-owned sewer treatment plant to the junction, making the development possible.