Feds green-light casino -- but fight continues
The Department of the Interior (DOI) announced in December 2010 that it would take 152 acres at the Interstate 5-La Center junction into trust for the Cowlitz Tribe's proposed casino project.
But this is still not a done deal. In late January, Clark County, the City of Vancouver, two property owners near the proposed casino, owners of La Center’s four card rooms and CARS filed an appeal in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, owner of Spirit Mountain Casino in Oregon, has filed a separate lawsuit.
The Cowlitz project has moved from the administrative fee-to-trust process to a litigation phase. Other jurisdictions have successfully overturned similar DOI decisions, and the Cowlitz application is full of opportunities for challenge.
First, the Cowlitz decision runs counter to the U.S. Supreme Court's February 2009 finding in Carcieri v. Salazar, which states that the Secretary of the Interior has no authority to take land in to trust on behalf of tribes acknowledged after 1934. The Cowlitz Tribe was acknowledged in 2002.
Legal challenges are possible in other areas as well, including the Tribe's heavily flawed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the federal government's National Environmental Policy Act process, and the Tribe's questionable Indian lands opinion.
Most disappointing in this whole situation is that a federal agency is working against the wishes of a local community to determine its future land use and fate -– a community that has repeatedly and resoundingly pleaded, "No casino here, please."
Please stay tuned and stay hopeful. We will keep you posted on this evolving situation. (Sign up at left for our periodic e-mail updates, or keep up with our blog.)
Quick review: What’s this all about?
Opposing a tribal casino is not easy. Accurate, objective information is difficult to obtain, and the federal approval process is convoluted and unpredictable. Also, inevitably, opponents are accused of racism.
CARS’ efforts are not aimed at denying a group of people an opportunity or about opposing American Indians. CARS’ concern is about local governments maintaining land use jurisdiction, about tribes establishing reservations in their homelands, and about honest dealings in business and government.
Since CARS was formed in 2005, it has sought to expose the impacts a mega-casino and resort at the La Center junction would have on transportation -- particularly on Interstate 5 and the Columbia River bridge, area schools, local housing, privately owned businesses, area crime rates and addiction. It also has worked to report irregularities in the Cowlitz Tribe’s application process and the federal government’s handling of them. In the end, the Record of Decision issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs addresses a great many of the comments of concern made by cooperating agencies and others. But in almost every case it denies the validity of those concerns.
Since the EIS was completed in 2008, much has changed. We now are experiencing an era of economic turmoil and record unemployment. But CARS still believes that casino jobs -- generally low-wage jobs in an industry that would drain the county’s resources while producing nothing -- are not what this area needs. Gambling has been shown to fail a cost-benefit test with a $3 to $1 ratio. 
A casino-resort might seem like a glittering jewel box of jobs and recreation, but that mirage masks a host of social problems and public service challenges. And, if built, it would forever shut out other possibilities for development in northern Clark County.
 Earl Grinols, “Gambling Economics: Summary Facts,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, 17 November 2004, (www.texaspolicy.com/pdf/2005-03-vlt-grinols-summary-11-04.pdf), 27 October 2005.