When the Lummi tribe in Washington opened the Northwest's first casino 13 years ago, gambling became a jackpot, bringing in almost $1 billion a year to the region's tribes. Then last August the Lummi Casino closed its doors, blaming competition within the state as well as in Canada. Some say other closings will follow.
Lummi Casino revenues were often
earmarked for education and elderly programs, and employee
paychecks injected millions of dollars into the local economy. The
casino employed 238 people, which is almost half the total labor
force on the reservation.
The Lummi casino began
to feel a financial pinch last summer, when Canada upped wager
limits, extended casino hours and approved slot machines. Canadian
gamblers were lured back to their side of the
"When Canada opened things up a little,
things changed drastically," says Darrell Hillaire, vice chairman
of the Lummi tribe. "Now they've got 3 million people up there in
Vancouver that can stay home and gamble." He estimates that 80
percent of the casino's business came from Canadian customers.
Since the shutdown the tribe's unemployment rate
has jumped to 60 percent, from 7.1 percent a year ago. Says
Hillaire, "It has been a huge emotional and financial strain to the
Other tribes in Washington aren't immune
to Canadian gambling changes. The Nooksack Casino, which also draws
a large Canadian crowd, has downsized and cut operating expenses in
half to keep its doors open.
Legislature's recent decision to allow house-bank card games like
blackjack in bars and restaurants may weaken tribal gaming even
more. Swinomish tribal officials are afraid they won't be able keep
up. "There's just not enough to go around," says Bill Ludlow,