Snoqualmie Casino is a sight to behold

The gaming floor at the new Snoqualmie Casino in North Bend has 1,700 slot machines.  - All photos by Mark Lowry/Issaquah Reporter
The gaming floor at the new Snoqualmie Casino in North Bend has 1,700 slot machines.
— image credit: All photos by Mark Lowry/Issaquah Reporter

On opening day last Thursday it was a bit surreal to step out of the mist-laden Cascade forest into the Snoqualmie Tribe’s new state-of-the-art gambling palace. Being inside the 51,000 square foot gaming floor just 24 miles east of Mercer Island is to be transported to Las Vegas. Like the gilded halls of The Mirage or the MGM Grand, the new Snoqualmie Casino is a high-tech indulgence fueled by energy and luxury, food and drink.

The 170,000-square-foot building offers slot machines of every variation, poker, live entertainment and food and drink of all kinds. Only in noticing the Northwestern motif faux wooden beams high above the sea of machines, might you remember where you are — the new reservation of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe.

Without spending a dime, a walk through the new Snoqualmie Casino just outside North Bend is an experience by itself. The gaming floor itself stretches out the length of three football fields. The casino is perched on the top floor of a six-story wood and stone building. Unlike most gaming venues of Nevada, the casino offers amazing views from the many windows inside the restaurants and lounges. Inside, the structure suggests a Native American longhouse with 40-foot-high ceilings held up by what appears to be huge wooden beams. The beams, however, are made of concrete and steel instead of great fir planks and are wrapped in a wallpaper-like covering that resembles wood. But the carpet at your feet is rich with swirls of orange, yellow and gold, the counters in the rest rooms are granite.

More than 1,700 slot machines of all permutations await gamblers. Every kind of currency works. They can be fed by bills or tickets. A dozen new progressive slot machines offer jackpots that begin at $1 million. They are the first ones of their kind in the state, managers said. Near the center of the space are 50 table games and a quieter glass enclosure for poker.

How to get your bearings in the vastness? Meeting a friend? Look up and no further than the Mist Bar.

Floating about the center of the Boeing-sized space is the aptly-named Mist Bar. The circular bar is set up a few steps above the main floor and offers a view of the activity below. A wide-bellied glass fountain spills water as it changes color every few minutes. The servers there are locals — enthusiastic and experienced.

Indeed, places to relax and refuel are strategically positioned around the perimeter of the floor. There is the ubiquitous all-you-can eat spot. Here, the Falls Buffet, offers a startling array of food that reaches well beyond comfort food, ranging from sushi and Japanese noodles to Southwestern hot spices and the surf and turf section that includes prime beef and several very tasty potato dishes. It is elegantly served with an army of chefs and servers at the ready. The service on media day was earnest and polite, proud to show off their work. Above the long, curving buffet is a hand painted mural by a local artist, Andrew Morrison, depicting scenes from the Snoqualmie Valley’s old town, farms and the railway — idyllic scenes of a life that literally still exists a few hundred feet outside the windows.

In addition to the Mist and the Falls, the huge building has a total of eight bars and restaurants, which range from a coffee shop and deli to a lounge with live music and an elegant bistro that serves sail fish and duck, Dungeness crab and fine beef — but no burgers.

As you gaze at the white tablecloths and elegant touches that begin with the vast wine cooler, the Terra Vista Restaurant makes you think that you should have perhaps dressed a little better. The 88-seat restaurant wraps around the north side of the casino, with raised booths positioned to take advantage of the view from the tall windows.

Throughout the casino, there are hidden spots set aside for VIPs in corners and behind a heavy velvet curtain or door. Most notable is the mini-nightclub, Club Sno, an intimate venue that offers both live music or DJ-spun tunes. There are comfy wrap chairs clustered around glass and lucite tables that glow in the dark. The focal point again is the bar, a glass and metal affair with a rippled red glass surface. A cigar lounge fittingly named Lit, contains a mega-selection of tobacco.

Hours before the crowd was to arrive on opening day last week, the huge hall was as cool as the weather outdoors and smelled fresh and new. But not for long. Smoking will be allowed in the tribal operation, but for a portion with slots on the west end. Running the length of the building, high over the gaming floor, are two massive ventilation ducts six feet in diameter — just part of the state-of-the-art ventilation. On the day of the opening, there was much that remained to be done. Servers in the fine dining restaurants did not yet know details about the menu or what some of the ingredients were. (What is bucco? Anyone?) The main live entertainment venue slated to host Jessica Simpson on the weekend, was unfinished and off-limits to the press. Wiring had yet to be completed in the DJ booth at Club Sno. Yet the operation is to be managed by people who have been in the gaming industry for years, many from Nevada. All were smiling and confident.

The showy debut of the $375 million casino comes at a time of historic economic uncertainty, but Snoqualmie tribal leader Matt Mattson is optimistic about its prospects in “a unique market.”

The Tribe will spend years paying off investors, but Mattson expects to see some dividends for the tribe’s 600 members within a year. About 100 tribal members are employed at the casino.

Finding much that relates to the Snoqualmie Tribe within the casino is difficult. Perhaps it will come later. There appear to be traditional tribal baskets and a ceremonial hat hanging high above the state-of-the-art wine cabinet. But the staff did not know about them.

Though the “People of the Moon” have inhabited the region for hundreds of years and signed the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot, the Snoqualmie Tribe lost its federal recognition in 1953 because it did not have reservation lands. After decades of petitioning, the tribe was again officially acknowledged in 1999. The tribe’s aboriginal territory extends to the eastern boundary of Lake Washington.

“Many people now have their livelihood tied to the tribe, and in some ways I think there is a poetic justice to that; the tribe is restoring its position of prominence in this Valley that’s named after them,” he said.

Denise Miller of the Snoqualmie Valley Record contributed to this story.

The casino is easy to find. Head eastbound on I-90, take Exit 27 and go left, follow the roadway under the freeway and you will come to a roundabout that is the entrance. There are 2,000 parking places, half of which are inside the five-floor garage below the casino. Valet parking is available, especially if you bring the limo.

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