Both sides in casino debate waiting on decision

Jan. 15, 2011

Now the waiting game begins. Again.

With the two-part determination for a proposed casino in Cascade Locks by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs held up by a Department of Interior review there is not much both sides in the debate can do but wait.

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk is reviewing current applicants for the Indian Gaming Regulatory off-reservation exception, which includes the Warm Springs proposal.

Until that review is completed, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar either approves or rejects the project, both sides can only lobby their case to Gov. John Kitzhaber, who would need to give final approval if the project passes federal muster.

Kitzhaber has already made his opposition to the casino well known, dating back to his previous terms as governor, and he does not appear inclined to change his mind.

"No," Kitzhaber spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki said of whether Kitzhaber had changed or is considering softening his opposition. "His position is the same as it always has been."

As they wait for a decision from the Interior, representatives for the Warm Springs have begun reaching out to the new governor's staff for preliminary discussions, but nothing beyond that phase.

"We're waiting to see what the Department of the Interior will decide or when they will decide," casino project spokesman Len Bergstein said. "We're kind of in a holding pattern and the ball is in their court."

If Interior rejects the proposal, the Cascade Locks site would be all but dead and the tribes would have little leverage.

However, if it is approved, they could bring substantial bargaining chips to bear in negotiations with the governor.

That would include a signed-compact, site-specific for Cascade Locks, which includes funds of up to $850 million, depending on casino revenue, for a state scholarship fund as part of a community fund package and the right for some casino employees to unionize.

If Gov. Kitzhaber rejects the Cascade Locks site, there would be no guarantee the state would get a similar deal.

They also could - with substantial cost - build on tribal land overlooking the Columbia on a cliff side just east of Hood River.

No decision is forthcoming though until Echo Hawk completes his review and Salazar decides which way to go on the project.

"When they make a decision then both sides will just have to sit down and have an honest conversation," Bergstein said.

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