LA CENTER — The legal fight to block the Cowlitz Indian Tribe from opening its mega-casino on reservation land near La Center is not dead yet.
In late October, the tribe learned that three of the casino’s longtime opponents were pushing their fight to the nation’s highest court of law, the United States Supreme Court.
Opponents taking the case to the Supreme Court include the owners of three private card rooms in La Center, a group of Vancouver business leaders known as Citizens Against Reservation Shopping and a small group of private residents who live near the casino site in north Clark County.
Three of the main opponents to the casino have dropped out of the legal battle, including the city of Vancouver, Clark County and Oregon’s Grande Ronde Tribe, who fear the Cowlitz casino will drain profits from their Spirit Mountain casino.
Opponents to the casino have long said that the Cowlitz tribe was “reservation shopping” or seeking reservation land outside the tribe’s historic territory so it could develop a casino-resort closer to the Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area. Courts have sided with the Cowlitz tribe, however, allowing the tribe to develop its reservation — and casino-resort project — on a 150-acre piece of land off Interstate 5 near La Center.
In March, the legal battle went to the country’s second-highest court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where a three-judge panel upheld a lower district court judge’s ruling sided with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision to take the north Clark County land into trust for a Cowlitz Reservation.
What opponents filed on Oct. 27 is called a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari and, basically, asks the U.S. Supreme Court to consider taking the case and ruling on legal issues surrounding U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s decision to grant reservation land near La Center to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
Cowlitz Indian Tribe Chairman Bill Iyall called the casino opponents’ push to the Supreme Court “unfortunate,” but said his tribe “remains committed to partnering with the entire community to bring economic and job growth, environmental sustainability and long-term transportation improvement to the greater Vancouver/Portland metropolitan area.”
John Bockmier, spokesman for the La Center card rooms, said the card room owners were committed to seeing the case go as far as it could.
“They believe in the principal of what they’ve been fighting for despite unfavorable rulings at lower courts,” Bockmier said.
Iyall had a different take on the situation and said the card room owners owners’ appeal to the Supreme Court was another move to block economic progress in Clark County.
“It is unfortunate that the owners of the card rooms in La Center continue to undermine the significant economic development the Cowlitz Tribe is bringing to our community by filing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling,” said Iyall, in a prepared statement. “Both the U.S. District Court and Court of Appeals rulings have been strongly in favor of The Cowlitz Tribe, and we are very comfortable with the validity of the Appeals Court’s decision. The La Center card rooms’ continued obstruction of this project is counterproductive to the local economy.”
The Cowlitz tribe’s $510 million mega-casino is set to open in mid-April of 2017 and is expected to add 1,000 jobs to north Clark County and bring as many as 4.5 million visitors each year to the Cowlitz Reservation off Interstate 5 (I-5) near La Center.
In expectation of the casino’s arrival, the city of La Center is planning a new economic center on city land opposite the Cowlitz Reservation I-5 exit and hopes to capitalize on the casino traffic and diversify its local economy, which has long depended on gambling tax revenues from the private card rooms to fund crucial city services.
“(The casino), which is nearing 70-percent completion, will bring more than 1,000 new jobs to Southwest Washington and dozens of small business opportunities,” Iyall said. “The entire Vancouver/Portland metropolitan area will benefit from ilani’s $40 million in annual spending on local goods and services. And when we open the facility in spring 2017, two percent of the net revenues from the facility will be invested back into arts and educations programs throughout our local community.”
Bockmier said he expects both sides will ask for extensions and that it may be three or four months before the Supreme Court decides whether it will or will not hear the case.
“It’s a very tentative timeline, but I would expect to hear from the (Supreme Court) in early 2017,” Bockmier said.