Private casino proponents fold support for measures
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
Measures 82 and 83 on the Nov. 6 ballot are now orphans.
In a surprise move on Tuesday, Oct. 16 – three weeks before Election Day – supporters of the two measures threw in the towel, stopped airing ubiquitous TV commercials and took down a Facebook page promoting “The Grange.”
After spending more than $6 million on collecting signatures to place the two measures on the ballot and touting them statewide through two mailers and innumerable TV commercials, backers realized that they were not moving Oregonians on the issue.
Surveys consistently found that the number of Oregonians who support amending the state Constitution to allow private casinos and want to specifically permit a privately owned casino at the shuttered greyhound racetrack in Wood Village was not moving from the 32 percent who OK’d a similar proposal in 2010.
Stacey Dycus, principal spokeswoman for The Grange, posted on her Facebook page after the announcement a brief statement: “Know when to fold.”
Two Canadian investment firms funded the second effort to get Oregon voters to approve a private casino in Wood Village, an eastern suburb of Portland. In 2010, Oregon voters defeated the idea 68 percent to 32 percent.
But all the TV ads and slick mailers were not changing voter’s minds and strong political opposition from current Gov. John Kitzhaber and three former governors – Vic Atiyeh, Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski – made the effort even more difficult. In addition, both the Republican and Democratic parties in Oregon urged their members to vote “no” on the measures.
“In the last few weeks it appears to the campaign team that not enough Oregon voters are ready to add a private casino to the state’s gaming options,” Dycus said in a prepared statement announcing the end of the pro-measure campaign.
As in 2010, the private casino measures were opposed by all nine Oregon Tribes and the Oregon Restaurant Association. This year, the It’s Still a Bad Idea Committee joined the fray.
They argued that a private casino in Oregon would detrimentally affect Tribal revenues, which fund Tribal governmental operations like health care, education and social services, and also would have a disastrous effect on the Oregon Lottery, which funds many important state services as well.
Kitzhaber recorded a TV commercial in opposition to the measures, arguing that Oregon’s nine federally recognized Tribes kept their promises to the state and that the state should keep its promise to the Tribes that private casinos are not allowed within its borders.
The news arrived in Grand Ronde just as Tribal Council was meeting with Tribal lobbyist Justin Martin regarding anti-measure efforts. The Grand Ronde Tribe remained steadfastly opposed to the measures, which, if passed, would have a significant negative effect on Spirit Mountain Casino revenues that fund Tribal governmental operations. The Tribe was a principal financial supporter of the anti-measure campaign.
Despite the withdrawal of support, both measures remain on the Nov. 6 ballot and Grand Ronde Tribal officials continue to encourage Oregonians to cast “no” votes on the measures.
The pro-measure effort was funded by Canadian gaming firms Great Canadian Gaming Corp of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Clairvest of Toronto, as well as wealthy Lake Oswego businessmen Bruce Studer and Matt Rossman.
Cynara Lilly of the It’s Still a Bad Idea Committee said anti-measure activists will continue to communicate their message that the proposals are a bad deal for Oregon through Election Day.
“We still think it’s really important to educate voters about the reality of these measures,” Lilly said. “We think we need to keep having that conversation all the way up to Election Day.”
“Clearly, Oregon voters were seeing through what the proponents were trying to spin, and that in reality this wasn’t even close to being ‘Good for Oregon,’ ” Martin said. “It was going to be good for them and bad for the state.
“Shifting gaming dollars from the certainty of what we have now, governmental programs that provide for public good to gaming dollars for a smaller amount to Oregon and a greater amount in terms of private profits for them, just doesn’t make sense.
“The Oregon electorate is once again refusing to be fooled or tricked by the vague promises of two wealthy gentlemen from Lake Oswego and their foreign backers. While this is great news, we need to be mindful of the reality that these measures are still on the ballot.”