Ex-governors oppose Oregon casino ballot measures

JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Three former Oregon governors are joining the current chief executive in opposing a proposal to build the state's first nontribal casino.

Republican Vic Atiyeh and Democrats Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski implored voters to oppose Measures 82 and 83, which would allow developers to build a casino in Portland's eastern suburbs. Current Gov. John Kitzhaber filmed a television commercial last week urging a "no" vote.

The governors warned in a news conference that a new casino would increase crime in the area while harming Indian tribes that operate Oregon's nine existing casinos and rely on the profits to pay for social services such as housing, health care and education.

Casino proponents tout a fun destination that they say would create jobs and generate money for parks, police and schools.

"Don't be fooled by the multimillion-dollar TV ads," said Roberts, who was governor from 1991 to 1995. "This is not about water features or movie theaters or farmers markets or fine dining. This is about money, big money _ gambling money, and gaming profits."

Oregon's tribal casinos don't bring the same burdens as private casinos because they're located on remote tribal land, not in the middle of a big city, Roberts said.

Casino proponents have said that the issue will be decided by voters, not by politicians.

"The opposition campaign is funded by Oregon's current casino establishment. It's not surprising they would be opposed to competition," said Stacey Dycus, campaign manager for the casino proponents.

Both sides have spent liberally on television commercials touting the benefits and drawbacks of expanding gambling in Oregon.

Casinos are currently illegal in Oregon, but the state's ban doesn't extend to Indian reservations. Tribes run casinos on their land under federal law, with the state's permission.

Voters shouldn't look toward the casino's profits as the solution to struggling government budgets, Kulongoski said.

"This isn't going to solve Oregon's financial problems," Kulongoski said.

Measure 82 would change the state constitution to allow gambling in Oregon, with some restrictions, if each casino is approved in a statewide vote and in the community where it would be located. Measure 83 would specifically authorize the casino in Wood Village with up to 3,500 slot machines and 150 tables, and require that 25 percent of revenue go to the state lottery fund.

Clairvest Group Inc., a private equity firm based in Toronto, is the primary investor in the casino, working with Great Canadian Gaming Inc., which runs more than a dozen casinos and race tracks in British Columbia and Washington state, and two Lake Oswego businessmen who have been trying since 2005 to get voter approval for a privately owned casino.

The developers are advertising their project as a family-friendly destination called "The Grange," which they say would include a casino, hotel, theater and water slide on the site of the abandoned Multnomah Kennel Club in Wood Village, a town of less than 4,000 people on the eastern edge of metropolitan Portland, about 15 miles from downtown.

They say the casino would be 130,000 square feet _ about the size of an average Target store _ with 2,200 slot machines and 100 table games. Their plans call for a 125-room hotel, water park, bowling alley, concert hall and a public space for farmers markets and other gatherings.

The proponents say they'll build the project as advertised, although there's no requirement that they do so.