From humble beginnings building a small bingo hall to what is now a luxurious casino resort, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe has always had one objective — provide a better life for its people.
More than two decades later, the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort is a testament to that commitment through years of hard work and sacrifice.
“Our tribal elders wanted to provide better economic opportunities for our people,” said Francis SiJohn, CEO of the Coeur d’Alene Casino. “They made an investment knowing many of them would not live to see the outcome.”
SiJohn was named CEO last September, replacing longtime CEO Dave Matheson.
Today a sprawling resort casino facility and a premier golf course generate millions of dollars in annual revenue. Currently the casino employs about 800 people. During the summer months, employment numbers swell to more than 1,000.
“Really, we’re our own little city here,” said Francis, or “Frenchy” as he’s known by his friends. “Knowing what has been entrusted to me is an incredible responsibility. I don’t take it lightly; it can keep you up at night.”
This month the casino will celebrate its 24th anniversary with special events and ceremonies to mark the occasion. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe launched the casino in 1993 as a bingo hall. Since then there have been six expansions, creating 300 luxury hotel rooms and more than 100,000 square feet of gaming space. The Circling Raven Golf Club is regarded as one of the top courses in the world.
An aerial map of the property hangs in SiJohn’s office. Next to his computer is a smaller picture of the original bingo hall.
“I found this in some old files,” he said, holding the small photo. “I kept it as a reminder of where we started. The map on the wall tells us where we are right now. We’re working on our strategic plan for the next 20 years. It’s a blank canvas.”
In many ways the Coeur d’Alene Casino is at a crossroads. Other Indian tribes in the region are aggressively pursuing gaming, but SiJohn remains focused on his task at hand.
“If you look at the map, we’re in the center of it all,” said SiJohn. “We are a world-class destination. Competition is fierce, but the Coeur d’Alenes have always been known as incredible businessmen.”
The casino’s impact on the region is big. According to a 2015 University of Idaho economic impact report, the Tribe’s annual impact on Idaho’s economy is around $330 million and its operations generate approximately $13 million in taxes to the state, county and local government.
“Chairman Chief Allan’s vision and leadership has taken us to incredible places,” said SiJohn. “Vice Chairman Ernie Stensgar’s efforts can’t be forgotten either. He’s mentored the younger generation to prepare for future leadership.”
At the Tribe’s insistence, its gaming compact with the state includes a provision for the casino to return a percentage of its revenues toward education. That figure is now over $24 million.
“We’ve always given back more than what was required,” he said. “It’s who we are.”
SiJohn, 50, served as a tribal council member from 1999-2002 and 2004-2006, including time as the Tribe’s vice chairman from 2005-2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning and a master’s degree in public administration from Eastern Washington University.
A photo of SiJohn’s Uncle Henry playing a traditional stick game featuring bones hangs near his office door.
“My ancestors were gamblers and businessmen in many different ways,” said SiJohn. “And we still are, investing in our people and our community is always a safe bet.”