Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Tribe In The Media: The Latest Partner In Cowltitz Casino Project

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This installment of The Tribe In The Media series is a November article in The Columbian about a California Indian tribe buying a stake in the Cowlitz Indian casino project in Washington.

Barnett sells off piece of casino
California tribe now owns an unspecified stake in development partnership
By Jeffrey Mize
The Columbian
November 21, 2008

A Northern California tribe is the newest partner in an effort to build a casino resort near La Center.

David Barnett, a Cowlitz Indian Tribe member who has spearheaded efforts to build the project, has sold an undisclosed portion of his interest to a California tribe.

The new partner is the Paskenta Band of the Nomlaki Indians. The tribe already operates the Rolling Hills Casino, part of its 2,000-acre reservation near Corning, Calif., about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

The sale is not expected to affect the Cowlitz Tribe’s request for the federal government to take the 152-acre casino site, along the west side of Interstate 5, into trust on the tribe’s behalf.

A final environmental impact statement was issued earlier this year, but the federal government has yet to make a final decision. One likely won’t be made until after President-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan. 20.

Barnett, reached in Las Vegas Thursday, wouldn’t discuss the issue and seemed to dispute one report of the sale.

“You don’t have any information,” he said before hanging up.

But John Crosby, director of economic development for the Paskenta Band of the Nomlaki Indians, confirmed Friday afternoon that the sale has been completed after a couple of months of negotiations.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to diversify,” he said. “This is just one of those opportunities that we evaluated, felt good about it, felt it was a good investment.”

Crosby said he understands the federal government has made no decision on the Cowlitz Tribe’s application.

“There’s always risk,” he said. “They are going through all the legal processes to get tribal gaming on that land. We believe they will one day, and they have a great market.”

The Rolling Hills Casino also is near Interstate 5, he noted, but it is much farther from a major metropolitan area. The proposed Cowlitz casino is only 15 miles north of the Portland-Vancouver area.

Crosby said he visited the location as part of his tribe’s due diligence.

“It’s a wonderful site,” he said. “It’s very visible.”

Crosby said he doesn’t know what prompted Barnett to sell a portion of his investment.

Crosby would not disclose how of an interest his tribe now owns in Salishan-Mohegan or how much it paid. He also declined to comment on one unconfirmed report that the tribe purchased 48 percent of Barnett’s interest.

Securities and Exchange Commission filings indicate the Mohegan Tribe and its subsidiaries own 57 percent of Salishan-Mohegan. If the 48 percent figure is accurate, Barnett now owns 22.4 percent of Salishan-Mohegan and the Paskenta Band of the Nomlaki Indians own 20.6 percent.

Phil Harju, the Cowlitz Tribe’s vice chairman and spokesman, said although the Cowlitz have an agreement with Salishan-Mohegan to develop the proposed casino complex and manage it for seven years, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the inner working of the partnership.