When Oregonians approved a pair of initiatives allowing a state lottery in 1984, voters created a small program to fund economic development with scratch-off lottery tickets sold in convenience stores. Few could foresee that the lottery would become the state's No. 2 source of revenue, a billion-dollar enterprise with spinoffs in the form of nine casinos operated by American Indian tribes. Oregonians will face a similarly far-reaching decision if two initiatives to allow a privately run non-tribal casino in the Portland area qualify for the November ballot. Voters should start thinking about the potential long-term consequences.

When Oregonians approved a pair of initiatives allowing a state lottery in 1984, voters created a small program to fund economic development with scratch-off lottery tickets sold in convenience stores. Few could foresee that the lottery would become the state's No. 2 source of revenue, a billion-dollar enterprise with spinoffs in the form of nine casinos operated by American Indian tribes. Oregonians will face a similarly far-reaching decision if two initiatives to allow a privately run non-tribal casino in the Portland area qualify for the November ballot. Voters should start thinking about the potential long-term consequences.

The initiatives are sponsored by the Oregon Gaming & Entertainment Co. LLC, which hopes to open a $250 million casino complex on the site of the former Multnomah Kennel Club in Wood Village, just east of Portland. One of the initiatives would amend the Oregon Constitution to allow a privately run casino; the other would put in place the statutes governing its operations. Promoters say the casino would generate about $125 million in revenues for the state, along with $20 million in property taxes for local governments in the Wood Village area.

The most energetic early opposition to the plan comes from the Indian tribes that currently hold a monopoly on casino gambling in Oregon. Their privileged status is a product of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, which entitles tribes to offer all forms of gambling permitted by the states in which their lands are located. The lottery initiatives of 1984 opened the door to the tribes, and now there are nine of them — the Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde, west of Salem, is Oregon's No. 1 tourist destination. The tribes are dead-set against allowing a competitor to set up shop near the state's population center.

To bolster their case the tribes commissioned a study of the Wood Village casino's effects on state lottery revenue. Conducted by ECONorthwest, the study found that the casino would reduce the lottery's annual take by nearly $100 million. The state gets about two-thirds of every dollar in lottery revenue that is not paid out in winnings, compared with a 25 percent split proposed by the casino developers, so Oregon could break even only if there were a substantial increase in the total volume of gambling.

Oregon Gaming & Entertainment Co. disputes this analysis, pointing out that lottery revenues continued to climb throughout the period when tribal casinos were opening. What's more, the company warns that if an Oregon enterprise does not capture the Portland gambling market, a mega-casino just up Interstate 5 in Washington state will seize the opportunity.

Voters will have to sort out these conflicting claims if the promoters gather the required number of petition signatures by the July 2 deadline. They should consider other aspects of the issue as well — notably, the possibility that the first non-tribal casino would not be the last. If the Wood Village casino proved to be a money-maker, other proposals would emerge for casinos in the Portland area, along the Interstate 5 corridor, on the Coast and anywhere the population is large or the traffic is heavy.

The history of gambling in Oregon is that it starts small, and grows to a size no one imagined. There's no reason to believe history would change its course with the introduction of Nevada-style casino gambling.