This weekend, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs will open its new casino right alongside on Highway 26. The move is intended to bring its existing gaming operations closer to the main highway. But as David Nogueras reports, despite spending millions of dollars to complete the project, tribal leaders are hoping the casino's new home will only be temporary.
Perched on top of a cherry picker, contractors from Las Vegas are busy installing a new programmable sign for the Indian Head Casino. Once they get this thing plugged in, operators inside can use the display to advertise anything from nightly dinner specials to special events.
And it’s all those eyeballs driving by, that convinced tribal leaders to spend more than 13 million dollars to move their gaming operations just 20 miles - from the Kah-nee-ta Resort out to highway 26. According to studies commissioned by the tribes, this stretch of road between Portland and Madras sees about 20 times more cars each day than the casino’s previous home.
Gaming is about location, location, location," Ken Billingsley said.
He’s the general manager of the Indian Head Casino.
He explained, “We wanted people to come in, give them an exceptional experience and they can be our word of mouth, if you’re ever going to Central Oregon, stop in there."
That experience isn’t just about a convenient location. He says it’s also about expanding gaming offerings.
Out on the main floor, the casino’s blackjack dealers are keeping sharp by playing hand after hand of 21. On opening night, Indian Head will have 8 tables open for betting - three more than there were at the Kahneeta location. The larger space has also allowed the tribes to increase the number of slot machines from 300 to 500.
But despite the huge investment, tribal leaders don’t see the new location as the casino’s permanent home. For years now, the tribes have been trying to move forward a plan to open a casino at Cascade Locks. But that plan has has generated some opposition from environmental groups, other tribes, and Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Louis Pitt Jr. is Director of Government Affairs and Planning for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs
Pitt said, “We’ve had resistance from people that wanted to keep the Gorge the same. Yeah, well, gee that’s what we wanted to do back when those folks first came too.”
It’s not clear if the tribes’ dream of opening a casino along the Columbia Gorge will ever come to pass. If it does however, tribal leaders say they plan to use this new building for purposes other than gambling.
Alan Post, Indian Head Casino’s Chief Financial Officer said, "This building was built so that when that time comes that it ceases to be a casino operation, that the building could be re-purposed for other uses that the tribal government sees fit.”
The Casino’s board expects this new location could triple or even quadruple gambling revenues.