Casino in Rochester, NY, to begin expansion

Dec. 17--ROCHESTER -- A $14 million dollar expansion of the Lucky Eagle Casino to begin next month will double the size of the casino, add office space and create 60 new jobs.

The Chehalis tribal casino expects to begin construction in January and complete the project by September, casino general manager John Setterstrom said.

Once the work is finished, the casino is expected to:

--Grow by about 20,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet.

--Increase its slot machines to between 750 and 800.

--Create 60 new jobs to raise total employment to 700.

The casino also will get a new bar and lounge and have an expanded nonsmoking area, Setterstrom said.

The expansion plans, in the works for more than a year, have been spurred by more customers coming to the casino from markets such as Seattle and Portland, he said.

"We're seeing a change in the demographic," he said. "People are driving a greater distance to participate here."

The state Gambling Commission doesn't have specific revenue data for the Lucky Eagle Casino, but does have statewide numbers.

From 2005 to 2007, tribal casino net receipts statewide rose from $1.02 billion to $1.34 billion, according to commission data.

The expansion plans don't end with the casino, Setterstrom added.

A three-story office building will be built so that employees who have been working out of about seven portable buildings near the casino will be under one roof, he said.

The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis are driving much of the recent economic development in south Thurston County.

In addition to the casino expansion plans, the tribe has partnered with Great Wolf Resorts of Wisconsin to build the $100 million Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound. It is expected to open in the spring.

Developments such as these have caught the attention of other businesses, said Michael Cade, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Thurston County.

Cade's office has fielded inquiries from tourism-based businesses, retailers and others about doing business in south Thurston County. He declined to name any businesses, citing confidentiality agreements.

The jobs created by the casino expansion, the lodge or other businesses come at a good time, state Employment Security Department regional economist Jim Vleming said.

According to the most recent data available, Lewis County's jobless rate was 6.1 percent in October, but the unemployment rate could spike if flood damage to businesses in Chehalis and Centralia results in layoffs, Vleming said. By the end of the year, the Lewis County jobless rate could be higher than 7 percent, he said.

Meanwhile, Rochester residents such as Lowell Deguise feel that the casino's expansion plans and Great Wolf Lodge are largely positive developments for south Thurston County.

Deguise is manager of the Rochester Water Association, an accountant and co-owner of commercial property in Rochester.

More jobs in south Thurston County mean more Rochester residents who won't have to commute to Olympia for work. At the same time, Deguise wants responsible growth.

"It's a nice place to live as long as we get the infrastructure in place and manage it properly," he said.