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Players angle for Portland casino

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Articles - November 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010


Attorney Matt Rossman and financier Bruce Studer have partnered with a Las Vegas consultant and a Canadian finance firm on a plan to convert a former dog racing facility in Wood Village into a mega-resort they say would pull in an estimated $589 million per year in revenues. // PHOTO BY ANTHONY PIDGEON
An architect's sketch of the Wood Village Park casino resort, which would contain indoor and outdoor water parks, movie theaters, bowling alleys, a concert hall, a 290-room hotel, rooftop dining and 3500 slot machines, more than the major hotels in Las Vegas. // ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF PETER WILDAY, ARCHITECT

For a long time it was a mystery who was behind Studer’s ambitious plans for a Wood Village gaming and entertainment center. Studer and his partner, attorney Matt Rossman, first went public with their idea in 2005 without disclosing who their partners were. Now that they have made their way onto the November ballot with one of the two measures they hoped to pass, they are providing some jaw-dropping details about the size and scope of what they hope to build with the Las Vegas-based Navegante Group and the Toronto-based investment firm Clairvest.

Their plan calls for 3,500 slot machines (Spirit Mountain has fewer than 2,000), 150 gambling tables, a 290-room hotel, a concert hall, an indoor/outdoor water park with a flow wave machine for surfers, a 14-screen movie theater and 36 lanes of cosmic bowling. Clairvest, one of the investors in a recent casino development near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, would finance the deal. Navegante, run by a former chairman of MGM, would design and manage the casino.

“The investment is there and the players are in place,” Studer says. “We’ve got the best team on the field.”

Studer says the resort would earn $589 million in annual revenues at full build-out, employing 5,000 people between construction jobs and permanent positions and contributing $150 million per year to public schools, counties and municipalities.

If those kinds of numbers were to come to fruition, one non-tribal casino in Wood Village would be earning more money than all nine tribal casinos in Oregon combined. It would also wreak havoc on the Oregon Lottery and the Grand Ronde’s Spirit Mountain. State analysts estimate it could take away $72 million to $79 million per year away from lottery proceeds. Martin predicts the Grand Ronde would have to lay off half of its 1,500 employees at Spirit Mountain if the Wood Village casino were to go through.

Studer and Rossman say their project would simply give consumers more choices. They describe it as the largest unsubsidized economic development project in the state, thousands of new jobs created with out-of-state capital. “Not one dime of taxpayer dollars will be used,” says Rossman.

But it’s unclear whether their casino would be legal. Studer and Rossman have been trying to change the state constitution to allow non-tribal gambling since first going public with their plans five years ago. They haven’t succeeded yet, and their latest attempt to put the question on the ballot didn’t get enough signatures.

Their legal position is now complicated because only one of the two measures they backed made the Nov. 2 ballot. Between the constitutional issue and limited support for the casino in polls, the odds seem against them — for now. They’ve said that they can move ahead without changing the constitution, but opponents such as Len Bergstein scoff at that notion.

Bergstein is the well-connected Portland-based public affairs strategist who helped the Grand Ronde build their casino and is now trying to help the Warm Springs build theirs. He says the constitutional issue is hardly a detail that Studer and Rossman can shrug off. “They spent $1.3 million to get two initiatives on the ballot, not one,” says Bergstein. “They knew they had to change the constitution. They failed. They did not get enough signatures. Now they say they don’t need it. Well, nobody believes that.”

It will be up to the courts to decide that issue and others if the Wood Village casino earns approval. Studer and Rossman say they fully expect a lawsuit from the tribes as they progress toward a non-tribal casino.



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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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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