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Election may give private casinos a state foothold

Ballot measures 82 and 83 would open the door to privately owned casinos in Medford and throughout Oregon, potentially competing with the nine casinos owned by American Indian tribes.

Ballot Measure 82, which has the backing of Clairvest Group of Canada, would amend the Oregon Constitution to authorize the establishment of privately owned casinos subject to an initiative process for each proposed casino. Now, only tribal casinos are allowed in Oregon.

Ballot Measure 83 gives specific authorization for a casino in Wood Village in Multnomah County, known as The Grange. Residents in Wood Village also would have to vote on a local measure to approve the casino.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has opposed both measures, saying they would violate the spirit of an agreement allowing one casino for each tribe in the state.

The agreement limiting the number is tied to the state not allowing private casinos.

A private casino would come with many downsides, Kitzhaber told the Portland City Club Study Committee on Aug. 28.

"While some may argue that a private casino industry will create jobs and economic growth, a private casino industry would primarily benefit a few wealthy corporate executives and foreign investors while creating increased opportunities for corporate corruption and organized crime," Kitzhaber told the committee.

Stacey Dycus, campaign manager for Yes on 82 and 83, said the ballot measures put the option of whether a casino should be sited in a particular location into the hands of voters.

Under Measure 82, no casino could be sited within 60 miles of a tribal casino, and a casino could only be sited in an incorporated city.

A $250 million investment will be required for The Grange, which will feature a hotel, bowling alley, water park and movie theater.

Dycus said there are considerable requirements for approving a casino, including receiving approval from voters for every new casino proposed.

"It doesn't sound like a recipe for proliferation to me," Dycus said.

Dycus said opponents have claimed The Grange would have more than 3,000 slot machines, but she said the memorandum of understanding presented to the city of Wood Village calls for 2,200 machines.

The corporation supporting The Grange is PDX Entertainment, which is made up of Oregon and Canadian investors. Clairvest Group Inc., a private equity firm based in Toronto, is the primary investor, working with Great Canadian Gaming Inc., which runs more than a dozen casinos and race tracks in British Columbia and Washington state.

Also involved are two Lake Oswego businessmen who have been trying since 2005 to get voter approval for a privately owned casino. Oregon voters in 2010 overwhelmingly rejected their first casino proposal.

Dycus said the investors estimate The Grange will bring in $400 million in revenues annually, with 25 percent going to the state.

Irrespective of the two ballot measures, the Coquille Indian Tribe has proposed a casino in Medford in addition to the casino it already owns in North Bend, known as The Mill Casino.

Ray Doerning, spokesman for the Coquille Indian Tribe, said his tribe opposes both measures.

"It's really a change in philosophy for the state," he said.

Currently all gaming is operated under governmental entities, either the state-run Lottery or the casinos operated by tribal governments, Doerning said.

The Indian casinos or the Lottery are for programs benefiting their respective constituents, Doerning said.

The Grange also ran into opposition in September from the National Grange, an organization representing farmers and ranchers, which said it had nothing to do with the proposal and that use of the name The Grange was a copyright infringement. The two sides reached an agreement allowing continued use of the name at least through the election period.

Cynara Lilly, spokeswoman for Still a Bad Idea, the group that opposes measures 82 and 83, said the ballot initiative would open the door to Las Vegas-style gambling in the state.

She said the proposal by the Canadian company for The Grange could bring in up to 3,500 slot machines, compared with 1,900 at Spirit Mountain, the largest tribal casino in the state. The Bellagio in Las Vegas, she said, has 2,300 slot machines.

Lilly, whose campaign is heavily supported by the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde that runs Spirit Mountain, said huge companies would siphon off dollars from the tribal casinos, hurting tribal health centers and other programs.

Huge casinos also would siphon off dollars that benefit the state's Lottery program, which puts 84 cents of every dollar earned back into state coffers, Lilly said. Under Measure 82, only 25 cents on the dollar would go back into state programs, she said.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State on Monday, supporters of measures 82 and 83 have raised almost $3.5 million, spending just over $3 million.

Opponents with Still a Bad Idea have raised almost $1.2 million, spending $745,000.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.