A $280M venue

Oregon: Siletz faces Grand Ronde tribe opposition to Salem casino project; city seeks delay

Render of Siletz casino project in North Salem, Oregon.
2022-01-27
United States
Reading time 3:08 min

As the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians push ahead with a proposed casino -a $280 million venue along Interstate 5, in north Salem-, the project is set to face opposition from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde: they claim the facility would be unfair competition to other tribes in Oregon, and that it could harm the state’s largest casino to the east in Grand Ronde.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, owners of Lincoln County’s only tribal casino, claim that the project -their second in the state- would bring jobs, entertainment and tourism to north Salem. It is set to feature 2,000 slots, nine poker tables, bars, lounges and a 500-room hotel; just west of Interstate 5 and south of the Chemawa Indian School.

The Siletz tribe already operates Chinook Winds Casino Resort, a venue that employs 800 people. The Salem project would bring additional employment -about 1,200 living wage jobs, the tribe claims, and 2,300 construction jobs- at the planned 180,800-square-foot-casino, the two hotel towers and other assorted amenities.

Tribe officials are further seeking to sweeten the offer, having promised to share “an unprecedented 25%” of the net gaming revenue with state and the local government while splitting 50% of the net revenues “with participating tribes,” reports Yachats News. The Siletz tribe expects to generate $185 million in its first year of operation and $231 million by its third.

However, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are pushing against it, claiming the venue would bring traffic and crime problems to the area. Additionally, they say the loss of business at the tribe’s Spirit Mountain Casino from a competitor would cause a budget deficit “drastically affecting” Grand Ronde’s ability to provide critical programs and investment in infrastructure.

Similar to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, officials with the city of Salem are also seeking a delay to review plans for the proposed casino. The city has asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs for time, while the Grand Ronde tribe is asking the Bureau to move to a more comprehensive environmental impact statement, informs Salem Reporter.

Craig Dorsay, attorney for the Siletz, said the call for a statement was a move to delay the project. The Bureau of Indian Affairs already released on January 7 a more than 2,700-page environmental assessment gauging the impact of the facility: the casino would consume about 125 million gallons of water a year and lead to more than 7,800 vehicles daily to the site.

According to Dorsay, the Bureau of Indian Affairs first suggested a less-stringent environmental assessment because of the zoning and nature of the land in question. “We don’t think one is required but if we had to do one, we’re glad to do it,” he said regarding the statement. 

The tribe had already asked the firm that completed the environmental assessment to do the quality of work in their studies that would satisfy the standard for an environmental impact statement, so in case one is required, the Siletz believe they would not have to start over.

Meanwhile, Dan Atchinson, city attorney for Salem, has sent a letter to the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian affairs, requesting a 120-day extension to review the assessment. Atchinson claims it is necessary “to allow for an adequate review” of the environmental assessment and “to provide meaningful comments” on the project, reports the cited source.

As the Siletz seek federal approval for the project, which requires green light from the Secretary of the Interior and Gov. Kate Brown to move forward, a public comment period has been launched on the submitted environmental assessment, which ends on April 8.

On Wednesday night, the Bureau of Indian Affairs presented the initial 2,700-page environmental assessment for comment in a public meeting. While a few speakers voiced their support, many more expressed opposition to the casino, including members of the Grand Ronde tribe who attended the meeting, reports KGW8.

The Siletz, which during the meeting put emphasis on the new job opportunities and expansion of tax base for the city, have now released a statement responding to the Gran Ronde accusations. “We are disappointed with the Grande Ronde’s opposition to our Salem Casino Project and their false narrative about how the Casino will deter revenue from existing Oregon casinos and hurt other Tribes," the text reads.

"These statements are simply untrue. The mission of The Siletz Casino Project is just the opposite. We intend to share revenue of the property with all Oregon Tribes," it adds. "The Salem Casino will direct additional revenue to State and local government to support solutions to issues that Salem is confronting and to further offset any impacts the Casino operation may have."

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