The Casino Game In Washington State

Native American-owned casinos are stepping up to the next phase of the travel business – building hotels, spas and restaurants to go with the blackjack and craps and slots – and it does my heart good to see what they're creating. Reservations are absolutely awash in money these days because they've hit upon a very simple formula for attracting customers: People want to gamble, smoke, drink and stare at blinking, purring, jingling slot machines for hours at a time, and they're perfectly happy to be entertained by cover bands and TV screens showing ESPN all day.

I recently attended a dinner and overnight at the new hotel and restaurant opened this fall by the Tulalip Casino, which is about forty miles north of Seattle and one of the most successful tribal casino operations in Washington. Boeing workers come here in droves to gamble away their paychecks after building airplanes all day, and Canadians cruise down Interstate 5 to shop at the tribe's outlet malls and submerge themselves in the casino's vast, aquatic-themed interior.

The tribe needed a way to keep everyone on the property a little longer, so this summer they opened a lavish, high-rise hotel, with spacious, high-tech rooms that are decorated in plush fabrics and are every bit as fancy and comfortable as a downtown Seattle hotel. To go with the fine-dining Tulalip Bay restaurant and the more casual Cedars Café, they just opened Blackfish, an in-between restaurant that serves fresh fish – including native salmon dinners – and great wines. The whole thing is elegant, refined, upscale – great for couples on dates, but still accommodating to people who want to show up in shorts and a t-shirt, smoke their heads off, play poker all day and night, and listen to AC/DC and Heart cover bands.

The income generated is staggering, and has paid for everything from new schools and roads on the reservation to a scholarship fund that will foot the bill for any tribal kid to go to college if he/she so chooses. And for the first time in history, tribal lands that once saw the highest unemployment rates in the country are now actively recruiting workers to come and staff all of those hospitality jobs created by the casino, hotel and restaurants.

Check it out the next time you're in western Washington and feeling lucky.