La Center residents worry about impact new casino will have on e - KPTV - FOX 12

La Center residents worry about impact new casino will have on economy

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While it's a huge success for the Cowlitz tribe, the new Ilani casino is looking like it could make a serious dent in the economy of the city closest to it.

For years, the City of La Center has relied heavily on taxes on the revenues of the four card rooms that line its main street.

Two of those casinos have closed, with the most recent closure blamed directly on the new casino across the highway.

"Everybody's I think very on edge right now, not knowing what's going on in terms of funding, obviously, and whether anyone's going to be laid off in the city," said Marc Denney, La Center's police chief.

According to management, the Ilani Casino expects to draw roughly 4.5 million visitors a year.

Because the casino is on tribal property, it is exempt from state and local taxes on gaming revenue.

"There's been already kind of a deficit from what was normally coming into the city for their revenues," said Denney.

La Center's police department is currently made up of seven sworn officers. Four are patrol officers, two are sergeants, and one is chief.

"We're at minimum staffing levels to the point where if someone goes down for any length of time, it's very hard to recover from that," said Denney.

If his budget takes a significant cut, Denney said, he will have to consider reducing service levels, and possibly ending 24-hour police coverage.

Despite the uncertainty, management at Ilani believes the new casino will have a positive impact on the area.

In addition to building a new interchange to accommodate traffic, the Cowlitz Tribe agreed to invest $5 million in a new sewer line, which would allow the City of La Center to develop property on its side of the highway.

"We don't see ourselves as a stand-alone operation. We consider ourselves part of the market, part of the region," said Kara Fox-LaRose, Ilani's General Manager.

FOX 12 reached out repeatedly to La Center's mayor for comment, but received no response.

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