Casino opponents: Beware the barbs in gambling’s lure

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

June 3, 2006

Opponents to a tribal casino focused heavily on the social ills brought by gambling during a special forum last week.

“There is a tremendous amount of crime directly associated in Las Vegas with gambling,” said George Holt, a former prosecutor in Clark County, Nev.

He said that prostitution, vice and fraud accompanied casino activities. Holt predicted a “ripple effect” of public safety problems within a 50-mile radius of any facility constructed by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in the Gorge.

The tribe is seeking to build a casino/resort in the Cascade Locks industrial park with a footprint of about 280,000 square feet. If the off-reservation site is turned down, the Warm Springs have stated their backup plan will be the construction of a casino on 40 acres of trust land just east of Hood River.

About 40 people gathered on May 24 at Hood River Valley High School for anti-casino arguments presented by six panelists. The event was co-sponsored by the Hood River Valley Residents Committee and No Gorge Casino!

“Pathological gambling has a fiscal impact on social welfare and law enforcement. They are going to need a hospital and a jail in Cascade Locks, and other things they never thought they needed,” said Holt.

He said the population of the rural town, which currently stands at 1,150 people, would likely exceed the 6,450 citizens now living in Hood River. Holt based that belief on the fact the casino would be providing 1,740 new jobs – and problem gamblers and career criminals would also move into the community.

John Randall, co-founder of No Gorge Casino! said the growth would not benefit existing local businesses. He said once the $389 million project was completed, it would provide multiple restaurants, shopping outlets, and even spa and daycare services – all at prices that undercut “mom and pop” establishments.

“How can retailers compete with casinos, which are notorious for giving out free food and merchandise to get people inside?” asked Randall.

He said if the casino in Cascade Locks brought in the conservative estimate of $200 million in revenue each year, local decision-making would begin to revolve around its tribal wants and wishes. And there would be no way for government officials to control the activities taking place on the casino property. The Warm Springs want to purchase 25 acres from the Port of Cascade Locks for the casino. And lease an additional 35 acres for parking.

Randall said if the project is approved at the federal level, the purchased land would be given “sovereign nation” status and exempt from outside regulation.

“Casinos bring in ‘cannibalized dollars.’ They don’t create wealth, they take it from other sectors of the economy,” he said.

Tiffany Pruit, the only member of the Cascade Locks City Council to oppose the casino, agreed with Randall’s assessment. She said many residents had been drawn to the Gorge by the quiet lifestyle. She believed most commuters felt that a longer work day was a good tradeoff for a safe place to raise their children.

“Cascade Locks is a bedroom community because most people want to be away from the hustle and bustle of city life,” said Pruitt.

Jonathan Maletz, a family therapist, cited two studies that addressed the potential crime problems facing Cascade Locks or Hood River from the siting of a casino.

He said statistics from Casino Crime and Community Cost by Earl Grinols and Davis Mustard painted a grim scenario. Their report, based on national trends, revealed a dip in social problems immediately following the opening of the casino. But that good news was followed by a “huge jump” in property crimes that begin in the third year.

In fact, the study showed robbery typically rising by 136 percent, assault by 91 percent and auto theft by 78 percent. In addition, burglary rates were hiked by 50 percent, larceny by 38 percent, rape by 21 percent and murder by 12 percent.

Maletz said the National Gambling Impact Study Commission’s report of 1999 also outlined a spike in divorce rates as the lure of riches through gambling lured people into addiction.

“I guess what I am trying to say tonight is that a lot of the ills we face as a society are so big there isn’t a lot we can do about it. But we can do something about this one, we can say ‘no’ to a casino,” said Maletz.

Kamie Christensen-Biehl, co-chair and founder of Stand up for Clark County Citizens, spoke about her research in fighting the proposal for a Cowlitz Casino in La Center, Wash.

She co-authored a book and amateur documentary on experiences gained by a 6,000 mile 26-day trip via car to 14 states and 17 Indian reservations. Christensen-Biehl said she viewed first hand the dismal results of government leaders not taking time to learn about the long-term detriments of a casino because they were more interested in the immediate gain. She said, in one scenario, wastewater was flowing from tribal land onto nearby properties and no enforcement action could be taken.

The Warm Springs have agreed to abide by state building and health regulations – but Christensen-Biehl said enforcement action would be difficult because of the tribes’ “sovereign nation” status.

“It’s all out there for elected officials to educate themselves and do a good job of protecting their constituents and communities,” she said.

Michael Lang, conservation director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge, was also a presenter. He said any Gorge casino was likely to bring traffic congestion and air pollution, as well as damage wildlife habitat areas and scenic vistas.

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