Citizens panel says 'No' to private casino initiative
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
An idea that was overwhelmingly rejected by Oregon voters in 2010 is off to a bad start in 2012.
The Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission, which is charged with reviewing measures that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, voted against a proposal that would allow Oregon’s first nonTribal casino to be built in the east Portland suburb of Wood Village.
After hearing from supporters and opponents of Measure 82, which would amend the Oregon Constitution to allow private casinos, 17 panel members voted against the idea and seven supported it.
Leading the opposition team at the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland between Aug. 20-24 were Tribal lobbyist Justin Martin, ECONorthwest Senior Economist Bob Whelan, Tribal Council member Kathleen Tom, Spirit Mountain Community Fund Board of Trustees Chairman Sho Dozono and Steve Ungar, former chair of the Oregon Lottery Commission.
Currently, only Oregon’s nine federally recognized Tribes are allowed to operate casinos under the auspices of the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act and compacts signed with the state. The Oregon Constitution must be amended to allow the Wood Village casino, which is being backed, as it was in 2010, by a Canadian investment firm and two wealthy Lake Oswego businessmen.
Tyrone Reitman, executive director of Healthy Democracy, which oversees the review panel, was quoted in the Aug. 25 Oregonian as saying that there were a “couple of things” that led to the overwhelmingly negative assessment.
“The revenue stream is uncertain,” Reitman said. “It opens up the possibility of multiple casinos in the future. There are some questions about the economic impact on the Tribes.”
Oregon voters are being asked this year to approve two measures: 82 would amend the Oregon Constitution and 83 would specifically permit a private casino at the former Multnomah Greyhound Track in Wood Village. In addition, Wood Village residents will have a chance to weigh in on the idea, having to approve it in a citywide vote before it can be built.
The Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission was established in 2011 by the state Legislature to create panels of “randomly selected and demographically balanced voters” to evaluate ballot measures. Panel members hear from campaigns both for and against measures, as well as policy experts, before voting on them.
In 2010, private casino backers were only able to get one measure on the state ballot that would have amended the state Constitution to allow privately owned casinos. It was resoundingly rejected by voters 68 percent to 32 percent.
This year, private casino supporters collected enough signatures to place both measures on the ballot.
Opponents, including the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, point to the negative effects a private casino would have on Tribal casino revenues, which pay for Tribal governmental operations, including housing and health care. They also cite the negative effect it would have on Oregon Lottery revenues, which fund schools, parks and economic development.
“Amending our Constitution to allow privately run Las Vegas-style casinos near major population centers is simply irresponsible,” Martin said. “And it sets a dangerous precedent that will unleash a tidal wave of deep-pocketed, out-of-state casino interests spending millions to put new initiatives on the ballot to build even more casinos in nearly every community in our state.”
Chuck Baumann, a spokesman for the Oregon Lottery, told The Oregonian that a privately run casino in Multnomah County would affect revenue the state earns from its video slot machines.
“Anytime you get a casino in the Portland metro area, that will affect our retailers,” he said.
Within a 20-mile radius of Wood Village are 800 restaurants and taverns that have video lottery terminals, representing 37 percent of the state total and about $350 million in sales, Baumann said.
Martin reiterated the stance that convinced Oregon voters to reject the idea in 2010.
“We worry about the proliferation aspect,” Martin said. “Once you knock out the barrier of the Constitution, what’s to prevent the Legislature, or the next wealthy executive, from putting one between Salem and Eugene?
“We in Oregon have this delicate balance of gaming. Why on earth would Oregonians choose to bring in a third party?”
As part of the Citizens’ Initiative Review process, the panel will draft a “Citizens’ Statement” highlighting the most important findings about a measure and it will be published as a prominent page in the Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet “as a new and easily accessible resource for voters to use at election time.”
Includes information from The Oregonian.