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Proposed casino goes before committees

RENTON - A Snoqualmie Valley resident urged legislators on Friday to go slow and answer residents' concerns about a casino proposed by the Snoqualmie Tribe.

Ray Wilson, a spokesman for the Snoqualmie Valley Citizens for Responsible Growth and Development, said Valley residents feel they are being pushed aside in the approval process.

"It would be unbelievably irresponsible [to approve the casino] without determining if a casino would have a detrimental impact on the community,'' he said, adding that the state needs to ask the tribe to prove that a gambling establishment won't be a safety or environmental problem.

Wilson spoke Friday at a joint hearing of the House Commerce and Labor and Senate Labor, Commerce and Financial Institutions committees at Renton City Hall. The hearing was called to review the Tribe's request for a gambling compact with the state to operate a casino.

The Tribe, which was federally recognized in 1999, wants to built a three-story, 170,000-square-foot casino near Snoqualmie along Southeast North Bend Way by Exit 27 off Interstate 90. Tribal officials said they are negotiating to buy 56 acres there and turn it into trust land.

Tribal officials said the casino would include a 400-seat theater and parking for 900 cars. They hope to open the casino in 2003.

Tribal Councilman Ray Mullen, who is also the chairman of the Tribe's Economic Development Committee, acknowledged that there are "mixed feelings'' in the community about a casino.

He said there also was much discussion among tribal members about whether to go for gambling, but in the end the Tribe decided it was necessary to fuel further economic development and meet tribal needs.

The state Gambling Commission will consider the compact next month. It must also be approved by the governor and get federal approval.

Wilson said local concerns focus on a casino's impact in an area where there are three schools with 2,200 students. He specifically asked if crime is a problem around casinos in the state.

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Skyway, who chaired the hearing, said the Legislature has had the same question but has found around the state that casinos do not generally encourage crime.

People need facts and figures to have an informed opinion, Wilson said.

He also questioned the casino's economic effect on efforts to revitalize historic downtown Snoqualmie and the casino's effect on wildlife and the environment, including flooding.

Rep. Jim Clements, R-Yakima, said Snoqualmie needs a "real hard discussion'' of issues surrounding the casino, adding that he hoped the Gambling Commission could instigate the discussions.

Mullen and Wilson talked after the hearing about setting up some more public meetings.

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