By todayÆs financial standards, last monthÆs opening of Snoqualmie Casino a half-hourÆs drive from Seattle was nearly a miracle. Two years ago, lenders were coming out of the woodwork for a chance to finance the 5 million project, which includes a 1,700-slot gaming floor and five restaurants overlooking the Cascade Mountains near Interstate 90.
The Snoqualmie Tribe had to track down the money after its partnership with MGU Companies of Phoenix collapsed in 2006. “Holding the bag,” the tribe turned to Wall Street, finding $330 million from Bear Stearns as what the Seattle Times terms “the biggest startup financing in the country for a tribe building a casino.”
“It was surreal,” Tribal Administrator Matt Mattson says. “We had no collateral, no revenue. It was based on an idea. We had people wanting to invest from all over, all the biggest firms, Hancock, Fidelity, you name it.”
Such interest would be unlikely in the current economy. In fact, present conditions pose Snoqualmie a dilemma in finally opening its first casino after years of effort: planning to fund competitive expansionsùand tribal benefits from casino fundsùwhile paying down debt in an area where other tribal casinos are starting to report declining revenue growth for the first time.
“ItÆs taking a large gamble,” Mattson says. “We could have put up a tent, with no debt. We decided to up the game. We hope the reward is that much greater. Greater risk, greater reward.”
W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, sees a sound future for Snoqualmie, the only casino in an area marked by some of WashingtonÆs wealthiest zip codes.
“Their market is so strong over there on the east side of Puget Sound, it is not going to be a problem for them,” Allen says. “They are going to succeed almost despite themselves.”