Gov. Jay Inslee today announced his concurrence with the U.S. Department of Interior’s determination granting the Spokane Tribe of Indians the authority to build and operate a gaming facility —known as the STEP project — in Airway Heights, Washington.
The Spokane Tribe obtained a two-part determination from Interior in June 2015 concluding that the gaming facility is in the best interest of the tribe and would not be detrimental to the surrounding community. Federal law requires concurrence from the governor for the Spokane Tribe to proceed.
Inslee based his determination on a year of extensive legal review and discussions with multiple tribal governments, state and local authorities, federal officials, U.S. Air Force leaders and business and community groups. His deliberations were grounded in four principles:
- respecting the sovereignty and economic development of tribal governments
- protecting the vitality of the state’s military installations
- supporting the priorities of local governments and communities
- guarding against the unnecessary expansion of all forms of gaming across Washington state
“This is not a simple situation with an easy, clear-cut answer,” Inslee said. “I wanted to be sure to fully understand all perspectives on this issue before making a decision. All sides have very compelling arguments in favor of and against this proposal. After much consideration, I decided that allowing the Spokane Tribe to develop on its federally recognized land was both fair and appropriate under the federal legal requirements. “
The Spokane casino proposal is an off-reservation casino, but is federally designated trust land within the aboriginal area of the Spokane Tribe. The last time an off-reservation casino was approved was when Gov. Gary Locke approved the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest casino in 1998, also in Airway Heights.
In his letter to Interior, Inslee noted that the circumstances of this proposal are distinctive enough that the precedent does not pose risks to future unnecessary gaming expansion, and that the Air Force is on record saying the gaming facility would not create a hazard or impede operations at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Inslee also notes that substantial evidence demonstrates the STEP project will generate significant economic benefit in the region, create thousands of jobs during construction and operation, and generate millions of dollars in wages and state and local taxes.
Inslee’s concurrence means the Spokane Tribe can begin developing the STEP facility. The tribe already has a gaming compact with the state that governs the size and scope of operations at the facility.