By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
Not all Cascade Locks residents are pleased about having a tribal gambling casino site in their city.
In fact, about 20 activists have decided their rural quality of life is worth fighting for. So, they are mounting a campaign to protest the proposed gaming center that is based on numerous arguments — with facts to back them up.
“We’ve always been here. We’ve always been in disagreement with this but we’ve been in the background just waiting for an opportunity to be heard,” said Richard Randall, chair of Cascade Locks No Casino.
He said the potential environmental, social, criminal, and traffic problems created by a casino should concern citizens Gorge-wide. Therefore, he and other No Casino members are hoping to draw support from throughout the Mid-Columbia.
“Educating people is probably the most beneficial thing we can do. So far, all we’ve heard is the positive side of this thing but there are a lot of negatives too,” said William Mohr.
Cascade Locks No Casino has decided to inform their fellow citizens about the “other side” of a casino. Next week they are mailing out a flyer that lists a host of potential problems. In addition, they have posted a Web site, www.cl-nocasino.org that provides statistical information about the perils of gambling. Also listed is the negative economic impact on many other cities located near a tribal casino.
Opponents also point to the environmental impact of having a huge gaming center built near the city’s largest wetland. And the potential for traffic congestion from a projected three million annual visitors is very likely, even if a new freeway interchange is constructed.
“People from Washington are going to cross the Bridge of the Gods and come through town and it’s going to be a mess,” said Donna Mohr.
Randall said for the past several years residents have been given the impression by government leaders that the casino was basically a “done deal.” And they were not informed that even if Gov. Ted Kulongoski signs off on an off-reservation site, there are still avenues of appeal.
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has to agree with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ plans to build a 500,000-square-foot casino in the Port of Cascade Locks’ industrial park.
“Even if the governor approves this casino, it’s still possible that it won’t get through the federal level so this is a critical point,” said Randall. “In the past people have been pretty apathetic because they didn’t think it would do any good to fight — but this isn’t a done deal and we still have a voice.”
He and other citizens have protested the casino at meetings of the Cascade Locks City Council but they don’t believe they were heard. Randall said the quest for economic development appears to have blinded officials to the potential problems that would be brought by a casino.
For example, he said the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) found a drop-off in the income to local restaurants and bars once a casino came to town.
“Study after study shows that casinos don’t help local businesses, their customers are either driven away by traffic problems or go to the casino where they can get a cheaper meal or drink. We don’t feel it’s going to be the economic boon for Cascade Locks as we’ve been told,” said No Casino member John Randall.
NORC found that the overall per capita income for the involved city did not really change — but crime problems created by pathological gamblers roughly doubled within a 50 mile radius.
“I’m against gambling because of the destruction it does to families,” said Todd Mohr.
The CL No Casino Web site also provides contact information so that citizens can easily address their concerns with federal officials. A survey is included on the home page that members hope will counteract the one conducted by the city several years ago. Randall said it appeared that only supporters of the project were called so that the results would be overwhelmingly in favor of the Warm Springs proposal.
Richard Randall believes the results of the online survey will most likely be closer to one conducted by an independent pollster that showed citizens nearly evenly split on the issue.
The flyer sent by Cascade Locks No Casino will also include a letter from Ronda Hatefi of Oregonians for Gambling Awareness. She outlines how her brother, Bobby, got addicted to gambling and how it destroyed his life.
“Having a casino in your town will affect you. You do not have to be the one doing the gambling. We are just asking you to think ahead. Think about the families in your area that will be affected, the jobs that will be lost, the wages and work time that will be lost, and crimes that will happen. Think about what you will lose if Cascade Locks is taken over by outside gambling interests. The money that will come into the area is not worth the loss of control of your town and the lives that will be ruined,” writes Hatefi in an appeal to get people to join Cascade Locks No Casino.
Randall said her words basically sum up the arguments raised by his group.
He is hopeful that the people of Cascade Locks will listen and fight to retain their small town character.