TULALIP — The flashing lights and tinkling sounds of 1,500 slot machines won’t make up for a casino debut without fireworks and celebration, but it’ll have to do for now.
With a tribal blessing and a ceremonial ribbon cutting, the Tulalip Tribes opened the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino Wednesday morning. The $125 million project is the latest in the tribes’ economic development west of I-5.
“We are so excited that we are finally able to open up this building to offer a beautiful venue to our community and to our people,” said Teri Gobin, chairwoman of the tribes.
A traditional inaugural event would mean early access and a large party for tribal members, festivities not suited for a pandemic. Instead, members were encouraged to watch the limited opening from home.
Still, hundreds gathered to open the casino with a traditional welcome song, accompanied by the steady beat of ceremonial drums.
“There’s some (people) you can’t hold back,” Gobin said.
A red carpet and temperature checks awaited the curious at the main entrance. By 10 a.m., the first patrons poured in to the new “Q,” as it’s known by locals.
People play slot machines inside the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino on Wednesday in Tulalip. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Slot machines blanket the 126,700-square-foot facility, 500 more than in the old casino. The amenities, too, are like none seen across the street.
They include a 212-seat, seven-restaurant dining hall open 24/7; a 137-seat restaurant for a-la-carte dining; three full-service bars; a snack shack; and an entertainment venue that fits 189.
Ken Kettler, president and COO of the Tulalip Gaming Organization, said it took balance to design a space that kept the look and feel of the old digs while also making the improvements folks wanted to see.
“We’re pleased with the extra we’ve been able to put on top of what was already a great success,” he said.
At 2 a.m. Wednesday, operations ended at the old “Q.” The casino’s fate is still uncertain, but Gobin said requests and proposals have been made for the location.
Tulalip Tribes chairwoman Teri Gobin speaks to the crowd during the Quil Ceda Creek Casino grand opening on Wednesday in Tulalip. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
In 1983, the Tulalip Tribes opened a bingo hall at the site of the original Quil Ceda Creek Casino. Over four decades, the tribes expanded with the first casino in 1993, followed by development of the Tulalip Casino in 2003.
“What is so important is that we are an economic force for the whole county,” Gobin said. “The feeder businesses — the businesses that will grow around this area because of the different economic activities we’ve done — that is what really counts, because it keeps our whole community economically healthy.”
Construction of the new casino began in late 2017, but issues between the tribes and the original general contractor postponed the anticipated 2019 completion date. Andersen Construction of Seattle, with designs by TBE Architects of St. Louis, resumed building in 2019, according to the Tulalip News.
With its location on sovereign tribal land, construction could be completed and the casino can open despite statewide COVID-19 lockdowns initiated by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Inside the new Quil Ceda Creek Casino. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
“People have adjusted to stay safe,” Kettler said. “We have a real regimented program for our guests and our team members along with the Tulalip community.”
The casino will operate at 50% capacity through the pandemic and continue to monitor the science and statistics. “It’s worked out so far,” Kettler said.
For Gobin, it’s a matter of adapting. Casino funding, she said, is essential for the tribes to provide members with programs and services they depend on.
“What we’ve had going on for a long time was following the vision of our past leaders and our ancestors and that is what was so important to us,” Gobin said. “To take care of our people, to figure out a way to become economically strong, and I think we’ve done that.”
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; [email protected]; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.