The casino will have 22,000 square feet of office space and 18,000 square feet of gaming space.
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina
Today, output at the Warm Springs mill has dropped to 38 million board feet annually, and the reservation, one of the most impoverished in the state, has a 60% unemployment rate. “We’re in dire need of new jobs and revenue,” says Scott Moses, another council member. Although the tribe has several diversification strategies in mind, including a possible truck stop, store and biomass facility, moving the Indian Head casino was the easiest way to jump-start the local economy, Moses said. About 350 cars a day pass by Kah-Nee-Tah; 7,000 a day traverse Highway 26.
To capitalize on the increased traffic, casino managers are pursuing a clientele that “has never been marketed to before,” Billingsley says. “We’re going after recreation-type people, farmers, ranchers — cowboys are notorious gamblers.” Unlike the Kah-Nee-Ta facility, the new casino, which cost $13 million, will be open 24 hours. It also features a restaurant and snack bar. Kah-Nee-Tah, now minus a gambling venue, will be upgraded and rebranded as a family-friendly resort.
The temporary casino will only generate a fraction of the money of a Cascade Locks facility, tribal leaders caution. “We’re looking at approximately $100 million on that location,” Sehgal says. But as the battle over the Gorge venue continues — the proposed facility is opposed by Gov. John Kitzhaber and several environmental groups — the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are betting on the Highway 26 location as a step toward revitalization. “It gives the community hope and confidence the tribe is moving forward and that leadership is focused on getting jobs,” says Urbana Ross, the tribe’s chief operating officer.