By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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This Friday will mark five years after the Elwha River Casino opened west of Port Angeles, and tribal and casino officials have planned a party to celebrate the anniversary.
“It definitely doesn’t seem like it’s been five years. Time flies,” said Frances Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Tribal Council.
Charles said the casino has provided a number of benefits to both the tribe and the surrounding community.
“I think we have more than 50 people working there now,” she said.
“And not all of them are tribal, so that’s a big part of the economic development of our whole community.”
The 7,000-square-foot casino at 631 Stratton Road is celebrating the occasion starting at 6 p.m. Friday with tribal dancers, a special seafood buffet and fireworks.
Rena Barkley, marketing manager for the casino, said the dinner is limited to 200 people, and formal invitations were sent out to leaders from other area tribes and to platinum members of the casino’s Paddle Rewards Club.
“But there will be lots to do. We’re not going to turn anybody away,” Barkley said.
The Elwha Klallam Dance Group will provide entertainment through dinner, and members of the tribal council will speak about the casino’s half-decade before the fireworks go off at 9 p.m.
The casino has set aside some of its more than 130 slot machines for a “Fantastic Five” slot tournament every Thursday in March.
Tonight’s tournament, the final, begins at 6 p.m.
Revenue from the casino is used to augment the tribe’s programs for children and elders, Charles said.
In addition to funding after-school programs, the tribe also uses revenue from the casino to fund tutors in public schools in Port Angeles and Joyce.
“It’s not only providing service to our native membership, but it’s also helping meet the state’s obligation to pay for the education of all our children,” Charles said.
But it’s not just a revenue boost.
The casino has brought with it increases in police calls, primarily for mischief, drunken drivers and drug activity, Charles said.
“We have our ups and our downs from it, sure,” Charles said.
“That’s always going to be an issue, but we’ve done a lot to get into the community and let them know that even though something may be legal in the state or county, we are a federal tribe operating under federal laws.”
This is particularly true of Washington’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana, which is still illegal on most reservations and in Olympic National Park.
But Charles said tribal officers have worked well with county and state law enforcement to hold down violations.
“Our officers have good working relationships with surrounding agencies,” she said.
“So we can catch a lot of things before they get to be much bigger issues.”
The Elwha River Casino is open from 10 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.