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Tribe's casino project dealt setback

Plans to build the Eastside's first tribal casino have been dealt a setback after the Snoqualmie Tribe's financial and managerial partner pulled out of the project.

Tribal Administrator Matt Matson said last week that Phoenix-based MGU Com-panies declined to complete an extensive review process required by the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Instead of relying on MGU to build and operate the casino, the Tribe will go it alone, Matson said, and sell $250 million worth of bonds to finance the project.

The change means that construction of Casino Snoqualmie did not begin in June as originally planned with an opening date set for late next year. Instead, the Tribe now plans to break ground in October and open the casino in May 2008.

"For whatever reason, they decided not to, or weren't able to, complete the review process," Matson said of MGU, noting that the process of finding a new partner would be time consuming.

"From the Tribe's perspective we're kind of going through a divorce so we're not ready to jump in bed with someone else. It felt like we were let down. We felt the best course for us was to take care of it on our own," he said.

"It's difficult to do this type of financing but Indian gaming has done so well that investors are willing to support it. Everyone expects this gaming opportunity to be great because of the location."

Tribal leaders say the 56-acre property, located near Snoqualmie, is ideal because it will be the only casino on the Eastside as well as the only one on Interstate 90.

The wooded 56-acre site is slated as the home of a 150,000-square-foot casino that will cost $90 million to build, draw 3,000 visitors per day and employ 700 workers. Plans also call for three restaurants, a cigar bar and space for live music and dancing.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs approved reservation status for the land in March, five years after the 600-member Snoqualmie Tribe applied to put land in a trust and three years after MGU purchased the property for $3.8 million.

In return for its investment, MGU was to operate the casino for five years and retain 30 percent of the profits.

Matson said the tribe would pay MGU back for the property with proceeds from bond sales.

Matson described the bonds as similar to the ones sold by municipal governments and expects an interest rate of approximately 11 percent on the bonds, which would be paid back over eight years.

It wasn't the first time the Tribe's financial backer ran into trouble. In 2004, investors filed for bankruptcy as a result of a dispute between two business partners feuding over ownership of the two companies bankrolling the casino, MGU and MGU Development.

Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson said he hopes the casino will be another recreational draw for the area, in addition to Snoqualmie Falls, the professional caliber golf course at Snoqualmie Ridge and an indoor water park that's been discussed on county-owned property near North Bend.

"All those things are defining a new image for the Snoqualmie Valley as the backyard playground to Seattle and Bellevue," Larson said.

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