The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are raising their stakes in the gaming industry by breaking ground on a 34,000-square-foot casino that will feature 300 machines along U.S. Highway 93 in Evaro.
The new casino, expected to open in late 2016, will replace the Gray Wolf Peak Casino, which was built in 2007 and features 118 machines. It will include a 120-seat restaurant, lounge and outdoor patio.
The tribes will add roughly 100 jobs with the expansion in Evaro, up from the current staff of 28 at Gray Wolf Peak Casino, according to tribal officials.
The new casino south of St. Ignatius will be 7,000 square feet smaller than the previously planned $27.4 million and will not feature a 70-room hotel or RV park, although those additions could emerge in the future, according to tribal officials. The casino will remain on the 5.2-acre property where the current casino is located but the updated cost estimates remain unknown, according to tribal officials.
“We’ve scaled it back from the concerns we had from the elders and the community that did not want such a big, extravagant deal,” S&K Gaming CEO Sheila Matt said.
The expansion is the latest in a growing lineup of tribally owned and operated casinos. S&K Gaming, the company that oversees gaming management for the tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation, invested $4 million last year for the renovation of the KwaTaqNuk Resort in Polson.
The tribes announced plans for the expanded casino in Evaro a year ago after three feasibility studies showed the regional market would support an increase in gaming opportunities.
The expanded casino will be the largest in Western Montana, slightly ahead of the Glacier Peaks Casino and Hotel in Browning. Built in 2006, the 33,000-square-foot Browning casino features 300 gaming machines and live poker.
On the east side of Montana, the Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation had plans to build a $33 million casino and hotel, but the project has been halted indefinitely, according to tribal officials. Located on Highway 2 along the southeast side of the reservation near the North Dakota border, the Buffalo Rivers Casino and Lodge was slated to include 400 gaming machines, a 75-room hotel, a 150-person buffet and 400-seat event center.
There are nearly a dozen tribally owned casinos across Montana and these sites can operate beyond the state’s regulations, allowing for increased revenues and payouts.
In state-regulated casinos, bets are limited to $2 and payouts are capped at $800. The CSKT have not had a gaming compact with the state since the previous agreement lapsed in 2006, and this allows for heightened gaming on the Flathead Reservation. Bets can reach $5 and the payouts can reach as high as $1 million. In early October, a record jackpot of $915,524 was reported at the KwaTaqNuk Resort from a progressive gaming machine.
Card games beyond live poker are prohibited in Montana, and even tribally owned casinos without a gambling compact with the state cannot operate blackjack and other games. A tribe would have to submit a special petition to the state seeking to do so.
At this time it is not being considered on the Flathead Reservation, Matt said.
S&K Gaming distributes funds from its gaming revenues to tribal programs for education scholarships and other local initiatives. This year $1.3 million was distributed back to tribal programs, according to Matt.
Correction (12/21): The Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation have halted the construction of the Buffalo Rivers Casino and Lodge. The story has been updated with that information.