Warm Springs to temporarily move casino to Hwy. 26, "continue to pursue" Cascade Locks site

Feb. 11, 2011

In a move it says is to strengthen its short-term revenue, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs announced it would be temporarily relocating its tribal casino from the resort of Kah-Nee-Ta to Warm Springs, all while continuing to pursue a permanent location in Cascade Locks.

"This would be the third best alternative," Tribal spokesman Loui Pitt said. "(Cascade Locks) is the preferred alternative to meet our many needs."

Louie said the Tribal Council decided to move forward with a temporary location to Warm Springs after it became clear that even if the Cascade Locks site were to gain approval by the Department of the Interior and then by Gov. John Kitzhaber, that it would be at least three years before a casino would be and running in the town.

However, the Warm Springs also stated that in no way did they consider the Warm Springs site a viable permanent solution.

"It's a significant decision for the short term," tribal political advisor Len Bergstein said. "It's very visible, right on the highway … but the tribal council made it very clear they wanted to continue to pursue the Cascade Locks site."

It has been the position of the tribes throughout the casino approval process that only the Cascade Locks site would generate enough revenue to provide a significant boost to the tribe's lifestyle.

In a Bureau of Indian Affairs environmental impact statement, Cascade Locks was listed as the preferred site, with tribal lands in Hood River second and a Warm Springs reservation site third.

"The tribal members overwhelming voted in a referendum for the Gorge," Pitt said.

Pitt said that move was not an indication that tribe was taking any options, including the possibility of using a site in Hood River, off the table going forward.

The tribe said that following the decision of the Department of the Interior to put its application into further review, and the election of Kitzhaber, it was clear to them they needed to take an action to help support the tribe in the short term until a decision was made.

Kitzhaber has stated repeatedly, with a spokesman reiterating this week, that he unequivocally opposes a casino in the Gorge.

"I think this is a smart move on their part; they can double their revenue from Kah-Nee-Ta," said Port of Cascade Locks commissioner Chuck Daughtry. "I believe they are looking at an old mall building near the Warm Springs museum that is 30,000 square feet and they can put in a tent like structure and parking fairly cheaply. One of the criticisms has been that they should just put it on their reservation and now they will be able to test that."

The new location for the casino would place it along Highway 26, a more high traffic site that its current location.

Each tribe in Oregon is allowed only one casino, so the tribe will have to close outside gaming operations at Kah-Nee-Ta with the move. The tribe will also have to renegotiate its gaming compact with the state to move its casino and is hopeful that may lead to dialogue with the governor's office over a long-term solution.

"It's always good to have a fresh set of eyes look over the compact," Bergstein said.

Pitt said that the tribe is hoping for a decision from the Department of the Interior in the late spring, and realizes that its dreams of casino in Cascade Locks may still be a long way from being realized.

"The clear-eyed view of what is going on in D.C made it clear that the tribal council had to take its fate into its own hands," Bergstein added. "It's still at least three years away even if there is a decision."

Daughtry thinks that move is ultimately a good one for the Cascade Locks site.

"They'll get to have government-to-government negotiations," he said. "It's typical of how the Warm Springs do things - they are very non-confrontational."

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