Tribal Government & News

Oregonians reject private casino measure again

11.14.2012 Ron Karten Elections, Gaming

For the second consecutive election, Oregonians overwhelmingly rejected during the Nov. 6 general election the idea of allowing a private casino to be built in the Portland suburb of Wood Village.

This time around, the "no" was louder.

In 2010, Oregon voters rejected a ballot measure that would have specifically permitted a private casino to be constructed at the shuttered greyhound racetrack in Wood Village by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin. This year, voters rejected the idea 71 percent to 29 percent (1,146,612 to 471,320).

Oregonians also defeated a constitutional amendment to allow private casinos in the state 72 percent to 28 percent (1,164,016 to 457,457). In 2010, the constitutional amendment measure did not qualify for the ballot.

"This is a great win, not only for our Tribe and our future, but for Oregon," said Tribal Council member Steve Bobb Sr.

"I am proud of the margin that Measures 82 and 83 were defeated," said Tribal Council Secretary Toby McClary.

"I think the increased margin of victory speaks to the intelligence of the Oregon electorate, how they feel about Tribes, how they feel about the current level of gambling activity in Oregon and how they feel about foreign investors trying to come into Oregon and change the way our system works," said Tribal lobbyist Justin Martin, who led the Tribe's opposition to both measures.

"I think that increase in numbers shows the resilience of Oregon voters and the fact that they don't want to be insulted with these kinds of proposals."

Supporters of both ballot measures started their campaign before Labor Day - a rarity in politics - by running ubiquitous TV ads promoting "The Grange" and sending out a statewide mailer to likely voters.

Up until Oct. 16, the TV ads and another mailer continued to bombard Oregonians with pro-private casino messages.

However, the It's Still a Bad Idea Committee, supported by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and other Oregon Tribes, started running its own TV ads, questioning whether a private casino in Wood Village would be a benefit to the community and whether it would truly create new funding for Oregon schools.

The pro-measure effort was funded by Canadian gaming firms Great Canadian Gaming Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Clairvest of Toronto, as well as wealthy Lake Oswego businessmen Bruce Studer and Matt Rossman.

But they found Oregon's political waters turbulent at best. The Oregon Citizens' Initiative Review Commission voted 17-7 against the two measures and a state economic analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office said that a private casino would probably cost state and local governmental entities money and likely shrink the Oregon economy.

Then, four current and former Oregon governors - John Kitzhaber, Ted Kulongoski, Barbara Roberts and Vic Atiyeh - all came out in opposition to the measures. Kitzhaber recorded a TV ad for the It's Still a Bad Idea Committee in which he expressed his concern that passage of the measures would break Oregon's promise to its nine federally recognized Tribes.

The Grand Ronde Tribe steadfastly opposed the measures, fearing drastic decreases to revenue at Spirit Mountain Casino if a private casino was built near Portland. Those revenues fund Tribal governmental operations, such as education programs and scholarships, health care, housing and Elder pensions for Tribal members.

With mounting political opposition and failure to move polling numbers, private casino backers surprisingly announced on Oct. 16 - three weeks before Election Day - that they were ending their efforts to pass the measures. They stopped airing the commercials, did not send out any more mailers and took down a Facebook page promoting "The Grange."

"There are some who believe that we never needed to spend money on this because it stood no chance of passing," Bobb said. "My feeling is if not for the very hard work of the team that worked on this on our behalf, from the polling to the commercials, and the many outstanding relationships that we made with the help of Justin Martin, and the televised debates that he handled with clarity and professionalism, the outcome may not have been the same.

"Even another publication referred to the amount of influence the Grand Ronde Tribe carried. All of this together contributed to the end result and they deserve all the credit. My thanks to them."

"I believe it is a reflection of the hard work that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and its members dedicated to this campaign," McClary said. "To see our Tribal members stand united and fight to protect our Elders, our youth and our future was very humbling and made me proud to be a member of this Tribe. I also believe Justin Martin and Perseverance Strategies deserve public acknowledgement for their hard work."

In addition to the negative statewide vote on Nov. 6, Wood Village voters opposed allowing a large casino in their community by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin (304-268). Had the two statewide measures passed, the Wood Village vote would have been enough to scuttle the project.

With the avalanche of negative sentiment against private gaming in Oregon, the biggest question is, "Will they be back in 2014?"

"I couldn't speculate as of now if they will be back or not," Martin said. "But they should rest assured that we are planning on their continued efforts to get at the Portland market when it comes to gaming. Strategically, Tribes will continue to prepare for these types of events whether it occurs or not."