Puyallup Tribe’s New Emerald Queen Casino

By Lisa Pemberton, Puyallup Tribal News staff writer

The sounds of construction – deep rumbles, clanks and beep-beep-beeps of heavy equipment – are happening outside the Puyallup Tribe’s new Emerald Queen Casino.

Inside the building, the noises are a little more muted – zings of drills, swishes of furniture moving furniture and spritzing of cleaning bottles.

Crews are knocking out punch list items for the Puyallup Tribe’s new 310,000-square-foot casino, which is set to open soon.

How soon? Tribal officials aren’t quite ready to give an opening date. Right now, it’s “early 2020.” As with any major construction project, equipment tests, final permits and many other details will play into the new casino’s opening day.

The Puyallup Tribal News recently took a hard hat tour of the site, led by Emerald Queen General Manager Frank Wright.

“There are very few casinos, even in Las Vegas, that are nicer than this one,” he said.

Located at 2920 East R St., Tacoma, Wash., the nearly $400 million facility boasts glamour, glitz and state-of-the-art technology. It is projected to pump $1.5 billion into the local economy during the next decade.

“The casino will be a vibrant touch to this whole city,” said Puyallup Tribal Vice Chairman Bill Sterud. “We are turning it into a tourist destination.”

The casino was designed by Cuningham Group Architecture, and general contractor Absher-Kitchell is overseeing construction. The Wenaha Group is serving as the owner’s representative.

The casino will feature:

  • Five restaurants, including a small café, a fine dining restaurant, a buffet, a coffee shop, and a sports bar. The restaurants are named the Summit Sports Bar, the Riverbank Buffet, the Waterway Deli, puyaləpabš café and the Paddle Wheel Coffee & Bakery.
  • Puyallup tribal member traditional and contemporary artwork, including murals, paintings and architectural elements featuring Coast Salish design.
  • A 2,000-seat, 21,000-square-foot concert venue and event center.
  • Environmentally friendly building elements. For example, the concrete that was used contains a recycled material that was diverted from landfills, and the building was designed to meet or beat the state’s energy code requirements. One of the biggest ways the building is reducing its carbon footprint is through its state-of-the-art HVAC system. The system is designed to take advantage of natural air flow and movements, so it removes smoke from the building without using as much energy as a traditional HVAC system.
  • An enormous LED screen, visible from Interstate 5. The screen is 32 by 147 feet.
  • Parking galore. In addition to a four-story parking garage attached to the casino, the tribe is building parking for an additional 700 vehicles in the adjacent 150-200-room hotel that’s under construction next door. (The hotel is set to open in mid-2020.) Both garages will have a total capacity of more than 1,300 vehicles.

Planning and infrastructure work for the Puyallup Tribe Emerald Queen Casino began 15 years ago, Wright said.

“We could have jumped in and built this casino a lot earlier but we wouldn’t have been able to build something as nice,” he said. “We stayed in a tent quite a few years and made a lot of money so we could prove to the lenders, the banks, that we had the ability to run a big operation.”

With two locations in Fife and along Interstate 5 in Tacoma, the Emerald Queen employs nearly 2,200 people. The new casino is expected to generate about 230 more jobs, and the new hotel is expected to add 35 jobs.

The new casino will replace the current Tacoma I-5 casino, which is a former bingo hall with three large adjoining tents. The Fife location will remain open.

“This is the culmination of a lot of work, of a lot of amazing people over many years,” said Puyallup Tribal Chairman David Z. Bean. “It’s the realization of their vision just to bring a first-class facility for our gamers here in the Northwest.”

Officials are planning to hold a soft opening for the tribe’s members. Council member Annette Bryan said she wants it to be a big party, to celebrate a project that involved tribal community input and involvement.

“I’m anxious to get it open,” Sterud added. “And I am proud of all of the work that has been done to reach this point.”

Puyallup Tribal member Katie Manzanares contributed to this report.

By the numbers:

$1.5 billion: The economic impact the Puyallup Tribe’s new casino is expected to bring to the area during the next decade.

$372 million: The new casino’s estimated construction cost.

310,000 square feet: The size of the new casino.

21,000 square feet: The size of the new 2,000-seat event center inside the casino.

2,450: Estimated number of Emerald Queen employees, once the new casino and hotel open.

15 years: The amount of time it took to make the new Emerald Queen a reality.