‘Green light’ seen in new casino bill

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

July 29, 2006

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs believe the House Resources Committee has given the “green light” for a casino to be sited in Cascade Locks.

By a vote of 27 to 9 on Wednesday, the bill sponsored by chair Richard Pombo, R-Calif., was approved. House Resolution 4893 prohibits off-reservation casinos, but allows pending projects to be considered under current criteria.

U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, supported the legislation. It was strongly opposed by U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., who unsuccessfully lobbied members of the committee to reject the legislation.

Len Bergstein, tribal spokesperson, said federal officials have shown their unwillingness to “change the rules midway” on review of the Warm Springs plan, and those of other tribes.

He said that belief is backed up by the fact that a similar bill proposed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also includes a “grandfather” clause.

HR4893 disallows off-reservation casinos, but grants an exception for projects already in the works by March 7, 2006. Any off-reservation proposal must still meet the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 criteria that it benefits the tribe and is not detrimental to the host community.

“It is very clear that both Houses of Congress have a very clear picture of what Indian gaming should be and the Cascade Locks casino falls within that picture,” said Bergstein.

The Warm Springs are seeking to build a 500,000 square foot casino on 25 acres within the Port of Cascade Locks’ industrial park. Another 35 acres would be leased for parking.

According to Bergstein, HR4893 was a “stake in the heart” of the opposition movement. Bergstein said Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde can no longer claim that a casino in the Gorge would open the “floodgates” for other tribal gaming centers in and around the Portland-metro area.

“We believe this bill will be on the calendar in September for a full House vote because of its broad bipartisan support,” said Bergstein.

Kevin Gorman, director of Friends, said McCain’s bill has been blocked by nine of his peers from a committee vote — and he expects opposition to mount in the House against Pombo’s version.

“I don’t think there’s a chance of getting either bill passed. I think there’s a real sentiment to end off-reservation casinos,” he said.

Gorman did acknowledge that if HR4893 becomes law, it would grandfather only two tribal applications in Oregon that would be located near Portland. He said, in addition to the Warm Springs proposal, the Klamath Tribes wants to build a casino in Aurora.

However, Gorman said there is also a citizen initiative slated for the ballot in 2008 that would pave the way for private gaming facilities, including one on the grounds of the former Multnomah Greyhound Racing Park in Wood Village.

“If these proposals go through I think you’re still going to see a proliferation of gaming, whether it comes from a tribal or a private establishment,” he said.

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