TOPPENISH -- The Yakama Nation plans to break ground in May on a $90 million casino expansion that will add a six-story hotel, conference facilities and a spa on its Central Washington reservation.
Across the Columbia River, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are plugging away on a $67 million project of their own. The expansion includes more casino space, a Cineplex and high-rise hotel.
In 2009, revenue at tribal casinos declined across the country for the first time, thanks to the economic downturn, but that isn't preventing tribes from expanding their gambling operations.
Dozens of new casinos and expansion projects have been completed in the past two years and dozens more are planned, according to the latest Indian Gaming Industry Report.
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"The economy will improve at some point, construction costs are down and tribes are trying to prepare for the future," analyst Alan Meister said. "When things turn around ... you want to be able to hit the ground running."
The Yakamas announced their expansion plans Thursday at Legends Casino.
The tribe's general membership approved the expansion March 8, tribal council chairman Harry Smiskin said. The project will enable the tribe to convert existing gambling space into a 29,000-square-foot events center.
"In order for Legends Casino to remain competitive, we have to grow with the market," he said. "The expansion is something we all look forward to very much and is something we know will be beneficial to the tribe."
Smiskin said the tribe hopes to add 150 to 200 jobs once the development is complete in 18 months.
For the Umatilla tribes, the expansion marks a new effort to draw a younger crowd to the casino already frequented by gray-haired slot-lovers. The tribe lures visitors with a casino, small hotel, RV park, golf course and museum, and the expansion will add 20,000 square feet of gambling space, a four-screen movie theater and a 10-story hotel.