Oregon gaming questioned in CL casino suit


News staff writer

May 7, 2005

The Cascade Locks No Casino group has joined a legal challenge that questions the Oregon governor’s authority to approve tribal gaming centers.

The lawsuit filed in Marion County by attorney Kelly Clark contends the governor violates the Oregon State Constitution by negotiating gambling compacts. The Portland lawyer argues that Article XV, Section 4(12) of the Constitution prohibits the legislature from allowing or authorizing casinos. Since the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Acts limits compacts to “a state that permits such gaming ...” Clark asserts that Oregon does not have to grant casinos at all. He is bringing the case to court on behalf of Gorge citizens as well as for the Florence group People Against A Casino Town.

Kelly further argues the governor cannot act alone in negotiating the terms of a tribal gambling compact — especially since it is a banned activity.

“He is governor, not emperor. His job is to execute laws and policy made by the policy-making branch (legislature), not to grab power and make policy on his own,” Kelly said.

Richard Randall, one of the plaintiffs in the Gorge suit, said that No Casino, which began with 20 people, was growing in membership because of Kulongoski’s recent action. With the April 6 signing of the compact for a Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs casino in the city’s industrial park, Randall said many local citizens feel the state is “telling us what is best for us.”

“There has been no vote, no referendum, nothing at all,” he said. “It is like we live in a monarchy and Kulongoski is King. He tells us, he doesn’t ask us.”

Kelly said there was no public policy debate in the state before Kulongoski decided to allow the state’s first off-reservation casino on public land in the Gorge.

But Dennis Karnopp, attorney for the Confederated Tribe of Warm Springs, said the arguments raised by Kelly are nothing new. He does not believe the courts will overturn Kulongoski’s approval for a 500,000 square foot casino to be built in the industrial park within the city limits. That recommendation has been forwarded to Interior Secretary Gale Norton for her approval or denial by May 22.

“It seems like these are issues that have already been processed by the courts and, on the face, seem to have no merit,” said Karnopp.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Native Americans could build casinos on tribal lands in any state in which gambling was not criminally prohibited. In response, Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) the next year. Under the federal law, states are required to negotiate “in good faith” with tribes for the terms and conditions of Class III gaming, which includes banking card games, video lottery terminals or any other electronic games of chance.

A tribe cannot offer Class III gaming unless a compact for land it owned prior to the passage of IGRA is negotiated with the state and that agreement is approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Oregon officials believe the state must negotiate compacts with tribes since other gaming is allowed. For example, the state runs a lottery, along with keno, video poker and other gambling activities. In addition charities routinely raise funds through “casino-style” gaming.

To approve the Cascade Locks casino, Kulongoski acted on a provision in IGRA that allows off-reservation casinos if it is beneficial to the tribe and would not be a detriment to the surrounding community. Both Cascade Locks city and port officials have championed the casino as the vehicle to overcome a high poverty and unemployment rate.

However, Clark said Kulongoski’s recommendation for the Cascade Locks site has generated growing controversy and opposition. He believes the legal theory presented by the two citizen groups is strong because The Three Rivers Casino in Florence is being operated out of a tent. According to Clark, if the compact signed in 2003 by Gov. John Kitzhaber was unbreakable, that gaming center would have “bricks and mortar” by now.

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