Players angle for Portland casino

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Articles - November 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
1110_Casino03
Supporters of a Cascade Locks casino, from left to right: Chuck Daughtry (Port of Cascade Locks), Chief of the Warm Springs Delvis Heath Sr., Chief of the Paiute Joe Moses, Scott Moses (tribal council member, Seekseequa district), Reuben Henry (tribal council member, Seekseequa), Smith, Pitt and Tim Lee (Port of Cascade Locks). // PHOTO BY ANTHONY PIDGEON
It’s two hours by car from the Warm Springs Indian Reservation to Cascade Locks, but Pitt is adamant that his people have as much right to develop land here as anyone. For centuries their ancestors lived at the center of a river economy that revolved around the abundance of salmon. “We’ve always been here and we’ve never left,” Pitt says. “We were some of the richest people in the world on this river because of salmon. We ceded 10 million acres to the government and one of the things we got in return was off-reservation rights.”

The Warm Springs are one of four tribes with treaty fishing rights on the Columbia River, and while fishing hasn’t brought them much prosperity in recent years, it is increasingly valuable as salmon runs improve. But salmon money is nothing compared to the value of a casino next to a major interstate, a short drive from Portland. “This is the means for us to rebuild our economy, our way,” says Pitt. “People keep telling us what we should do with our land. They say ‘build a museum.’ Well we built a museum on the reservation. It was a loser. We’re not in business to go broke.”

Census figures show that there is no community in Oregon more in need of economic rebuilding than the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Per capita income on the reservation is less than half the national average. The college graduation rate is about one-fifth that of the rest of the nation. Nearly three times as many families live in poverty as in the rest of the country. The community has no local high school, saddling teenagers with a tedious daily bus ride to and from Madras that contributes to an already high dropout rate.

The numbers tell a different but similarly grim story in Cascade Locks. With more than 100 acres of vacant property in an industrial area once humming with timber jobs, the entire assessed value of the city adds up to $68 million, Seeger says. That results in just $168,000 per year in property taxes. “I can’t run a city on $168,000,” he says. Fortunately for him, the city also runs the utilities, which bring in enough revenue to keep the lights on — barely. The city can only afford to fund local police protection for 24 hours per week.

Pitt is only half-joking when he suggests that there should also be a fourth tribe under the Warm Springs banner in addition to the Warm Springs, the Wasco and the Paiute: the Cascade Locks. “It’s unbelievable how poorly these guys get treated in the Gorge,” he says. “They’re like second-class citizens, and we know all about that.”

Unlike other former timber towns, Cascade Locks has identified a way out of poverty. “We’re talking about 1,700 permanent jobs,” says Seeger. “That would triple our population. And this isn’t a project that’s going to be outsourced to India or China. The tribe is going to be here forever.”

After years of roadblocks, there’s a sense of momentum in Cascade Locks following the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement in August. A large sign in the center of town reads, “Welcome Warm Springs. Welcome jobs.” A carload of curious tourists pulls up as Pitt and Seeger tour the property and wishes them luck with getting the casino approved. On the business side, Pitt says the Warm Springs have entered into discussions with investors eager to back the project once it gets federal approval. Howard Arnett, a Bend attorney who has been representing the tribe since 1980, says, “I feel better about our chances than I have in a long time…We’ve cleared every hurdle.”

But more hurdles may lie ahead. Justin Martin, a Grand Ronde tribal member and lobbyist who is working to block the Cascade Locks deal, says the Warm Springs still have a long ways to go before building a new casino. “They’ve reached the end of the beginning of the process,” he says. “That’s it.”



 

Comments   

 
Bob Brown
0 #1 Interesting article ... until the silly conclusionBob Brown 2010-10-25 14:10:29
'Problem gamblers' represent a very small percentage of those who choose gambling for recreation, studies have shown them to be less than 2%.

Though some are tightening their belts because of today's economic problems, gambling is likely to remain a significant choice for entertainment, and its revenues will return to growth when the economy recovers.

It's too bad you weren't able to write a compelling conclusion to an interesting story.
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Melanie Rivers, Cowlitz
0 #2 CT CasinosMelanie Rivers, Cowlitz 2010-10-26 08:44:13
One quick comment to the editor-the Mohegan tribe of CT runs Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT, not Foxwoods.

Foxwoods is run by the Mashentucket Pequots of Ledyard CT.
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A real friend of the Gorge
0 #3 Forgot a friend of the Grand RondeA real friend of the Gorge 2010-10-26 16:15:16
Another Grand Ronde "FRIEND" is the group under the guise of "Friends of the Gorge" who receive a great deal of funding from the Grand Ronde and Oregon Restauranters Assn.

Otherwise there seems to be plent of gamblers to go around, the state shouldn't worry as the term monopoly fits, they are already all over the state, and the Grand Ronde make $200M a year, when will they make enough? Guessing never.
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monkeygrudg3
0 #4 Not-so-serious questions of feasabilitymonkeygrudg3 2010-10-27 10:00:40
Pretty good article, but mostly I take issue with what others said. For example, I fail to see how a Cascade Locks casino (or a Cowlitz, for that matter) would take $70m from Oregon's lottery; most people who gamble probably do not focus on one avenue--I imagine people would just add the casino(s) to what they currently spend on the lottery.

That said, a casino is a destination, quite different than a corner grocery or convenience store selling lottery tickets and scratch-offs... so that argument holds no water.

Additionally, I put more faith in the Cowlitz casino becoming a reality than the author does. The Cowlitz is not the only Tribe affected by the Carcieri decision; the reason a "fix" has not been put in place has more to do with politics (as usual) than whether or not it should be done. It is inevitable.

Resistance is futile.
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Ben J
0 #5 Wood Village casino goes down in flamesBen J 2010-11-03 11:25:57
UPDATE: Backers of the mega-casino were soundly defeated in the polls Tuesday, as more than twice as many voters opposed Measure 75 than supported it.
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