By KEVIN GORMAN
Special to the News
Chuck Daughtry’s Dec. 4 editorial regarding a Cascade Locks casino bases its argument on a thoroughly false assumption: that the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have an unequivocal right to build a casino on their Hood River trust land. This is not an undeniable right and our Governor-elect should not make an irreversible, precedence-setting decision in Cascade Locks based on such a shaky argument.
Here are the obstacles facing a Hood River casino:
1. A casino on the Hood River trust land violates the Governor’s Compact with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
Gambling proponents have stated that they do not need the Governor’s approval to operate a Hood River casino. This is false. The compact states that moving a casino to an off-reservation site requires renegotiation of the compact and the approval of the Governor. Amending the compact would also require compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the concurrence of the Secretary of Interior.
That concurrence is not guaranteed. Secretary of Interior Gail Norton recently made these observations about off-reservation gaming, “I believe that IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) does not envision that off-reservation gaming would become pervasive ... While I do not intend to signal an absolute bar on off-reservation gaming, I am extremely concerned that the principles underlying the enactment of IGRA are being stretched in ways Congress never imagined when enacting IGRA.” (Letter to New York Governor George Pataki, Nov. 12, 2002.)
The precedent of an off-reservation casino in the Gorge would likely force the renegotiations of all the Tribes in Oregon and would change the face of gambling in Oregon dramatically and immediately.
2. A casino on the Hood River trust land is not permitted under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) provides the exclusive mechanism for regulating tribal gambling. IGRA allows gambling only on “Indian Lands,” defined as:
(A) all lands within the limits of any Indian reservation; and
(B) any lands title to which is either held in trust by the United States for the benefit of any Indian tribe or individual or held by any Indian tribe or individual subject to restriction by the United States against alienation and over which an Indian tribe exercises governmental power (emphasis added). 25 U.S.C. 2703(4).
The Tribes fail this test because at no time since its 1976 acquisition has the Tribes exercised governmental power over the Hood River trust land. Affirmative acts of governance include: (1) whether the areas are developed; (2) whether tribal members reside in those areas; (3) whether governmental services are provided and by whom; and (4) whether law enforcement is provided by the Tribes. (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe v. South Dakota.) The 40-acre Hood River parcel is an isolated, undeveloped and uninhabited piece of land more than 50 miles from the 640,000-acre Warm Springs reservation.
3. Operating a casino on the Hood River trust land would require transferring additional National Scenic Area land into trust, thus violating the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.
The Warm Springs Tribes have purchased approximately 200 acres surrounding their trust land and are attempting to move the newly acquired land to “trust” status through the Department of Interior. If these lands become “trust lands,” they will be exempt from the National Scenic Area regulations.
The U.S. Forest Service, the lead federal agency in the National Scenic Area, has the mandate to review the Department of Interior’s actions to determine if they are consistent with the National Scenic Area Act. The Forest Service has determined that the proposal to take the newly acquired lands into trust is inconsistent with the Act. This determination does not affect the existing trust land, but it does prohibit the development of the newly-acquired lands that would be necessary for access roads, parking lots, a hotel, and other amenities incidental to a large casino operation. This Forest Service decision effectively prohibits a casino on the 40-acre parcel.
The push to allow a casino in Cascade Locks is built on the threat of a potential casino in Hood River, a threat that isn’t entirely real. So the question has to be asked: if the Hood River threat did not exist, would anyone seriously consider a casino in Cascade Locks?
Unless the Tribes provide evidence of an undeniable right to operate a casino at Hood River, Governor-elect Kulongoski should maintain the state’s current policy of allowing one casino per tribe on the Tribes’ reservation lands, and avoid setting a dangerous precedent in the heart of the Columbia Gorge.
Kevin Gorman is the executive director of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.