Kotek says no to Salem tribal casino

Gov. Tina Kotek threw cold water on plans for a new tribal casino in northeast Salem – but the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians say they’re not giving up on the project.

In an April 13 letter to the chairs of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes, Kotek said she does not support an expansion of gaming, and intends to maintain the status quo from previous governors of “good faith bargaining between sovereign Tribes and the State on one gaming facility per tribe on reservation land.”

The project is currently awaiting approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where it’s sat for more than a year. Federal law requires both federal and state approval for the project.

“I wanted to provide this clarification of my Tribal gaming policy so that Tribes, the federal government, and local entities know where I stand. This helps all of us avoid confusion, use of resources, and advocacy for and against changing my stance in favor of one gaming facility per tribe on reservation land,” the governor wrote.

The letter was first reported by Willamette Week.

The Siletz tribe has planned for years to build a 20-acre off-reservation casino on tribe-owned land at 4751 Astoria St. N.E. in Salem, off Interstate 5.

The proposed 180,800-square-foot casino would house 2,000 gaming devices and 45 tables. There would also be a 500-room hotel, nightclub and sports bar.

Tribal Chairman Delores Pigsley said despite Kotek’s letter, the tribe intends to move forward.

“She can’t disapprove it until we get a decision from the bureau,” Pigsley said in an interview Tuesday.

Pigsley cited the tribe’s 1995 compact with the state, which says the tribe and state may negotiate a gaming compact to use the Salem land.

“We legally have the right since we negotiated our compact 20-some years ago. It does not have a sunset clause. We’ll be looking at it carefully,” Pigsley said.

If approved, the Siletz tribe would have a unique profit-sharing structure, with one-quarter of the casino’s profits earmarked for state and local government, one-quarter for the tribe, and the remaining half to be split among Oregon’s eight other tribes.

The Siletz tribe expects to generate $185 million in its first year of operation and $231 million by its third. It also said the casino would generate 1,200 full time jobs, according to a tribal fact sheet.

Pigsley said that revenue would allow the Siletz to support critical social programs, including providing housing to tribal members.

The tribe operates Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City. Revenue from that casino pays for the tribe’s cultural programs and supports higher education for tribal members, Pigsley said, but it’s not enough to keep up with what the tribal government needs.

“On the coast, we don’t enjoy the revenues that we would be able to enjoy in a city,” Pigsley said.

High housing costs have challenged the tribe to support its members, and she said the Siletz need care homes for older members and struggling youth, as well as those who are homeless.

“We’ve had to buy land to build homes, and we’ve had to buy land we once owned at a pretty unreasonable price since it’s on the Oregon coast,” she said.

City officials have not taken a position on the casino project, but said in 2022 comments to the bureau that its operations would necessitate additional police officers, and could negatively impact restaurant and hotel business in downtown Salem.

The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde oppose the project, which they’ve said would take business away from the tribe’s Spirit Mountain Casino, located on tribal land about 40 minutes outside of Salem. City Councilor Jose Gonzalez, who represents north Salem, and Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron have also voiced opposition.

Pigsley said she hasn’t gotten an update from the bureau about the timeline for a decision, and that the COVID pandemic has slowed operations.

“We are hoping that that decision will