ilani named best casino, looks ahead to its future

Parking structure is near completion, with other improvements in the works

Any time a player at ilani hits something big, it is announced over the public address system at the casino.

“Another jackpot winner …”

These days, ilani is celebrating ilani winning something big. Again.

ilani earned several more top prizes from Casino Player Magazine this fall, including Best Casino in the Northwest. Photo by Mike Schultz
ilani earned several more top prizes from Casino Player Magazine this fall, including Best Casino in the Northwest. Photo by Mike Schultz

Four the fourth year in a row, Casino Player Magazine has awarded ilani the Editor’s Choice for Best Casino in its Best of Native Northwest section. The magazine notes that Native Northwest covers the dozens of casinos in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.

“We’re grateful and humbled and excited by the continued recognition for the great work done by many,” said Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager of ilani, noting that the casino has won more than 100 awards since it opened in 2017.

“When we began this project, we had a very simple mission: Aspire to be the best in the Northwest in our industry,” she said.

While Casino Player Magazine might not be a household name to many people in Clark County, it is a player within the trade.

Besides the editor’s choice, the casino earned first-place recognition for best table games, best reel slots, and for best non-smoking casino.

“We take our mission … very seriously,” Fox-LaRose said. “ We have a lot of passion in what we do. I have an amazing team. We’re always pushing harder to do more and be better. One of the core values in our company: to continually strive for perfection.”

Kara Fox-LaRose, president and GM of ilani, said she and the ilani team are grateful and humbled by being named best casino in the Northwest by Casino Player Magazine. Photo by Mike Schultz
Kara Fox-LaRose, president and GM of ilani, said she and the ilani team are grateful and humbled by being named best casino in the Northwest by Casino Player Magazine. Photo by Mike Schultz

Which means ilani will be looking for more wins in the future, even in categories that the casino is not yet eligible.

Among the other awards given annually would be overall gaming resort and top hotel. One day, ilani figures it will be in the running for recognition in those categories.

“There are a lot of exciting things happening,” Fox-LaRose said. “A lot of potential for the Cowlitz Tribe reservation, with 150 acres to consider for future development.”

That includes the possibility of new tribal government buildings, she said, pointing out that it is the tribe that is making these investments into ilani.

As far as improvements with the resort, the casino is completing its parking upgrade with the construction of the undercover garage, scheduled to open in November.

“We take all the vehicles and go vertical with a structure,” Fox-LaRose said. “Make room for expansion efforts when and if we decide to pursue things.”

The rumor: A hotel would be the next big project. Fox-LaRose said it is in the long-term plan but a hotel has not been finalized.

“There appears to be a great next step,” Fox-LaRose said. “Once we’re past the pandemic, we can make a final decision. We would anticipate that being the next investment.”

A hotel, she said, would assist in expanding the market reach.

Another addition that could be coming soon to the casino is a sports book, Fox-LaRose said. While the casinos “compete” with each other for trade magazine honors, Fox-LaRose said they really do not compete with each other in any real sense. In fact, she is proud to work together with the other tribes.

It was the tribes, working together, that led to a sports betting bill that was signed into law earlier this year in Washington. Fox-LaRose said she expects ilani to have a sports book in early 2021.

“I’ve been inspired and impressed by the relationships of all the tribes in Washington,” Fox-LaRose said. “Just amazing people. We collaborate a lot to see how we can … elevate the game. A collaborative approach is much better than a competitive approach.”

Still, the awards are appreciated.

ilani opened in the spring of 2017. By the fall, it had earned top casino in the Northwest by Casino Player Magazine. It has taken home that prize in 2018, 2019, and again this year. The awards are scheduled to be published in the magazine’s next issue.

“It is quite an honor, especially given the amazing properties … that have been in existence for several years,” Fox-LaRose said. “What’s great about working for tribal gaming, you’re working for a family. There is so much more in terms of rewards, having a rewarding feeling, knowing we are impacting communities and improving communities around us.

“We continue to be humbled by the wins and certainly celebrate them with our team when we achieve them.”

More Cowlitz Indian Tribe news

The City of Ridgefield officially recognized Bill Iyall, the former chairman of the Cowlitz Tribe, last week.

“Under Bill Iyall’s leadership, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and ilani have created strong partnerships with the City of Ridgefield and communities throughout Southwest Washington, and have made many valuable contributions to our economic and community development …” read a proclamation.

It concluded with:

“I, Don Stose, Mayor of the City of Ridgefield, do hereby proclaim the City of Ridgefiels’s sincerest thanks for Bill Iyall’s countless contributions to our communities and residents, and wish all the best in the next chapter of a bountiful life.”

Iyall resigned as the chairman last month.

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