Casino campaign makes CL odds out

Cascade Locks has been all but eliminated as a site for a tribal gambling casino.

Last week tribal leaders launched an informational campaign on the Warm Springs Reservation to ready the 2,190 registered voters for the casino referendum, which may come as soon as late April.

Greg Leo, tribal spokesperson, said the two options currently on the table are the trust land just east of Hood River or unspecified reservation property along Highway 26.

"The people in Cascade Locks want us there but Gov. John Kitzhaber is about the only guy in the state that says we can't go there and he happens to be the guy making the decision," said Leo. "He is ultimately going to be responsible for the casino ending up on the hillside above Hood River."

In spite of mounting public pressure, Kitzhaber has stood firm on his 1999 veto of a tribal proposal to build the gaming center on Government Rock, an island the tribe purchased from the Port of Cascade Locks that same year.

He has also refused to weigh in on a recent proposal by the tribe to build the facility in the port's industrial park, a sector of which is already zoned for use as a resort.

Leo said tribal leaders started advertising the issues related to both the Hood River trust property and Warm Springs land last week. He said both district meetings and "home base" gatherings are being set up to facilitate a discussion of both options.

For example, a study by tribal consultants EconNorthwest has estimated that a casino in Hood River would generate between $13-15 million of annual net revenue because it would draw two million visitors annually. The same facility on the reservation would likely bring in about $4 million and draw 550,000 visitors.

"Our early response shows that there is strong support for a Gorge casino," said Leo.

He said the income differential will likely play a key role in the final tribal decision over placement, especially since budget woes have threatened programs and services on the reservation in the past few years.

According to Leo, an irony of the situation is that Cascade Locks is also facing tough economic challenges that could be at least partially alleviated by the casino. He said the rural community's residents would be offered some of the 850 jobs and share in the estimated $35-$38 million of net revenue each year. According to Leo, Cascade Locks may still gain from a tribal request with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have Government Rock reclassified as trust property that would be exempt from regulation and could be used for a destination resort.

The Warm Springs are also seeking that same status change for more than 160 acres of newly acquired Scenic Area properties adjacent to the 40-acre Hood River trust land. Leo said those parcels could then be used to support a gaming operation, although contingency plans have been made to build a resort facility even if that request is not granted.

"We've been at this for years and we're losing thousands of dollars a day by not moving forward," said Leo.

According to Leo, once tribal members have set a direction, construction plans are unlikely to be altered. He said the irony of the situation is that Kitzhaber's reasoning behind denial of the Cascade Locks site is "inconsistent" with his actions.

State governors have authority under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to approve or deny gaming facilities on Native American property purchased after the 1988 passage of that legislation. Kitzhaber denied use of the Cascade Locks site because of fears it would set a precedent for other Oregon tribes to build facilities on new parcels.

"We think the governor's after-acquired land policy is a sham," said Leo. "There is an unfairness in the governor's policy when six out of the eight (Oregon) tribes have built on after-acquired land.

"His policy says `no' to those that have always had a reservation and `yes' to those that were restored," he said.

A large number of Hood River residents have spoken out against having the casino sited adjacent to the Mark O. Hatfield state park, which is the ancestral land of the Warm Springs. Conversely, the majority of Cascade Locks citizens appear to welcome having the casino in their back yard because of the economic opportunities it would bring.

That second irony is not lost on tribal leaders, said Leo, who also wanted the casino in Cascade Locks but have all but given up that hope.

"In truth we would love to go there but we can't, I think the tribe is just very frustrated," said Leo.

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