Suquamish hopes to deal out a full house

SUQUAMISH — Ten months ago, ground was broken.

Six months ago, the final steel beam of the new parking garage was installed.

Three days ago, the dream of Suquamish Tribal members and their economic branch finally came true.

Port Madison Enterprises opened the doors to the new Clearwater Casino July 8.

After an afternoon blessing from tribal elder Marilyn Wandry, invite-only guests got a sneak peek at the new facility, including $100 in playing money and a free buffet dinner before the casino opened to the public later that night.

The old facility, consisting of the old Bingo Hall and a large tent, was only 18,180-square feet, while the gaming floor of the new casino is 22,224-square feet alone. Nearly 1,000 slot machines and 33 gaming tables, including craps, roulette and blackjack, are available in the new space.

“It’s like moving into a new house, except bigger,” said Lewis Mabe, a Suquamish tribal member and casino employee. “Much more luxurious. Fantastic.”

Poker tables are back and the new casino has a four-table poker room — something the old casino has not had since February 2001, when the tables were closed.

While the new 250-square-foot keno lounge is open, bingo games will be held in the adjacent Slahal Convention Center. Bingo isn’t slated to open until later this summer. As a result, the old bingo hall will continue to offer games until Aug. 1.

Minors are not allowed on the gaming floor, but can enjoy the three eating establishments that are open to everyone: the Longhouse Buffet, the Cedar Steak House (to open Aug. 21) and the Agate Pass Deli.

Five days a week, entertainers will fill the Beach Rock Lounge, which is separate from the dining areas (the lounge and eating areas were in the same location in the old facility). Clearwater Casino Marketing Manager Steven Buechler said the design was intentional.

“We can offer more things because we don’t have to be concerned with the ambiance of the dining room,” he said.

The entertainment area will feature five nights of entertainment: Wednesday —comedy; Thursday — live disco; Friday and Saturday — Top 40 cover bands; and Sunday — swing music.

As for the 7,300-square-foot convention center, it is already booked almost through Christmas, Buechler said.

The meeting/event space (which can be divided into four rooms) is named after the traditional native gambling game, Slahal, Buechler said. The mural to the left of the casino’s main entrance depicts the game of animals and people playing for dominion using sticks or bones. The area will also be a showcase for local native art, Buechler said.

“We made a conscious decision to commission native Suquamish art to the casino,” he said, noting that he wants visitors to feel like they are in a tribal casino and not Las Vegas’ Caesar’s Palace.

Once the old casino is completely closed, the tent will be sold and the bingo hall will be torn down. The area will be graded for parking, bringing the number of outdoor parking spaces to 400. The eight-floor parking garage already has 916 spaces.

With all this parking available, PME, the Washington State Department of Transportation and Kitsap Transit are working to establish a park-and-ride system in a portion of the lot to replace the current one across the street on State Route 305, Buechler said.

Employees and regular customers were excited about the newer, bigger and brighter structure.

Suquamish resident Reginald Little Brave was checking out the slot machines soon after the doors opened.

“It’s different — really different. I just have to find a machine that hits,” he said in jest.

Casino and tribe officials were ecstatic about the opening day.

“We’ve been waiting eight years for this day. I’m very proud to be working along side each and everyone of you,” said Clearwater Casino General Manager Gail Coyne as she fought back tears.

“We can use this casino as a steppingstone to provide opportunities to do things for our tribal members,” said Tribal Chairman Bennie Armstrong, noting one example as the $1,100 that each tribal elder will receive from the casino later this year.

Casino hours are 10-4 a.m., Sunday-Thursday and 10-6 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

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