A bad bet for Oregon: No on measures 82, 83

Backers of a Portland-area private casino didn't learn their lesson in 2010

Backers of what would be the first privately owned, non-tribal casino in the state are back on the ballot, two years after their first attempt to site a private casino went down in flames. The proposed casino and entertainment complex in Wood Village was a bad idea in 2010 and it's a bad idea now, despite proponents' attempts to dress it up as a family-friendly resort.

The proposed Wood Village casino, now dubbed "The Grange" after backers belatedly agreed to pay the real Grange some cash to use the name temporarily, would be built on the site of the defunct Multnomah Kennel Club, a former greyhound-racing track. Backers say it would include a hotel, movie theaters, restaurants, a bowling alley and a water park in addition to a casino.

To make all this a reality, two initiative measures are on the Nov. 6 ballot. Measure 82 would amend the Oregon Constitution to permit private casinos in Oregon. Measure 83 would specifically approve the Wood Village casino. Wood Village residents also are voting on a local measure to permit the casino.

The 2010 version of the constitutional amendment would have permitted only the Wood Village casino. That drew criticism for carving out a special one-time exemption, so this year's amendment would allow multiple privately funded casinos, subject to some restrictions. Casinos could be built only in incorporated areas, and only after each was approved by a statewide vote and by the voters of the city where the casino would be built. Private casinos also could not be established within 60 miles of any of the nine existing tribal casinos.

That means a private casino could be built in Medford, if state and local voters agreed.

To sweeten the deal, the amendment would require that 25 percent of gaming proceeds from each casino go to the state of Oregon.

We're not at all sure the new measure is an improvement. Essentially, it would transform Oregon into a casino gambling state.

The 25 percent of adjusted gross revenue sounds attractive, until one stops to consider that Oregon Lottery returns 84 percent. Private casinos also would cut into the profits of tribal casinos, which benefit tribal members and the local communities that receive grants from the tribes.

Backers of the Wood Village casino emphasize that it would be operated by an Oregon company, PDX Entertainment, but downplay the fact that it is backed by Canadian investors. Clairvest Group Inc., a private equity firm based in Toronto, is the primary investor, working with Great Canadian Gaming Inc., which runs casinos and racetracks in British Columbia and Washington state. Backers also say the Wood Village casino would have only 2,200 gambling machines — but Measure 83 allows up to 3,500 machines.

The bottom line: Measure 82 could change Oregon forever. Measure 83 would generate profits for foreign investors far in excess of the benefits to the state general fund.

The Mail Tribune Editorial Board recommends a no vote on measures 82 and 83.

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