All in: How the $510 million ilani casino will change the region's economy

The Cowlitz tribe's massive ilani casino project will forever change the rural towns that surround it. Meanwhile, Oregon's casinos and lottery revenues are preparing to weather a storm.

Published April 4, 2017

Ahead of ilani’s April 24 opening, the casino in Ridgefield, Washington has already attracted lots of interest. KGW looked into what the casino operation will actually include, where the money will go, and what it might mean for nearby residents, competing gaming organizations and other Native American tribes. We will be checking back later this year to see what the early impacts have been.

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Drivers entering Ridgefield, Washington are greeted by a sign that boasts that it’s the “birthplace of U-Haul.” It’s fitting, as U-Haul trailers can be seen dotting newly constructed neighborhoods, with townhomes and single-family residences squished side-by-side. The concentric circles of developments ripple like water into the former farm plots they occupy, butting against cow pastures in what was once a quiet town 45 minutes from Portland.

New construction projects up for sale in Ridgefield, Washington 

The growth is partly spurred by another construction project – a $510 million hulking casino complex off Interstate 5. The ilani casino is owned by the Cowlitz tribe, once a landless and federally unrecognized tribe that is the new beneficiary of 152 acres just outside the Ridgefield city limits. The casino is also a stone’s throw from the tiny town of La Center and the cluster of casino cardrooms there.

The ilani casino, backed by the powerhouse Connecticut-based Mohegan tribe, is set to open in April 24. With it comes an influx of jobs and revenue, a new start for the struggling Cowlitz tribe, and stiff competition for the small casinos and restaurants that once fit snugly into the rural community. Ilani, with its 2,500 slot machines, 15 restaurants, 1,200 jobs, 3,000 parking spots and expected 4 ½ million annual visitors is going to be a churning economic beast that local residents are cautiously watching, knowing for better or worse, the region will never be the same.