Federally recognized in 2000, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe immediately began planning for a casino resort on trust lands near La Center, Washington to bring in revenue. It was 2004 when Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) entered into development and management agreements with the Tribe. But yet another 13 years would pass before the Tribal partners would open their destination. Following a lengthy legal battle over the Cowlitz Tribe’s rights to establish a reservation to build a casino, it opened ilani Casino Resort in April 2017.
Now the venture owned by the Cowlitz and managed by MGE is expanding and majorly upgrading the property in Ridgefield. But more than that, the Tribes will be collaborating to masterplan the Cowlitz reservation, adding sources of revenue generation that will complement the Cowlitz Tribe’s existing businesses, such as ilani’s meeting and entertainment center, parking garage and convenience store, and the surrounding community.
As for ilani Resort Casino, the exterior and interior facelifts call for expanded gaming space, two new restaurant venues, and a 14-story, 300-room glass hotel tower — the latter featuring large suites and amenities including a spa, fitness center, top-floor restaurant and more. Construction commenced October 15, 2020, slated for an early 2021 completion.
“We have been steadfast in our efforts to bring forward a business model that complements our region and provides an unmatched experience for our guests,” said Kara Fox-LaRose, general manager and president of ilani.
Fox-LaRose continued: “Our business has grown incrementally since opening just over three years ago, and our new parking garage, expanded gaming space and additional restaurants provide increased opportunities to ensure the sustainability of our business and will continue to contribute to the economic vitality of our Tribe and the area. The addition of a hotel will allow us to bring more visitation to our region, and we are looking forward to the stabilization of our economy so we can begin construction. In the meantime, we will advance the design with the Cowlitz Tribe to ensure its elements properly represent the tribe’s heritage and meet the needs of our guests.”
As for MGE, the growth at ilani reflects the gaming arm’s global expansion.
Mario Kontomerkos, CEO and President of MGE, stated: “On the heels of combatting many challenges this year, we are thrilled to announce the expansion and growth of ilani, bringing a wealth of new amenities and entertainment options for future guests.
He continued, “As we continue on this path of strategic development, we recognize this expansion will bring growth, prosperity and excitement to the Pacific Northwest and further position ilani as the premier gaming, dining, entertainment and meeting destination in the region.”