Gubernatorial candidate outlines gaming stance

10.13.2022 Dean Rhodes Gaming, Spirit Mountain Casino


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

Should the Department of the Interior approve the Siletz Tribe’s plans to build a second casino in north Salem and should Interior Secretary Deb Haaland sign off on the conclusion, there is still one more hurdle – getting approval from the governor of Oregon.

With Kate Brown being term limited out of office and no Interior ruling imminent, the decision will fall on one of three people – Democrat Tina Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan or unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson.

A recent statewide poll, however, indicates that it will probably be either Drazan’s or Kotek’s decision, with both polling in the low 30 percent range while Johnson is a distant third at 18 percent.

Ironically, it was the Siletz Tribe attempting to obtain approval for a Salem casino decades ago that created the Oregon governor hurdle. The Siletz Tribe's plans had been approved by the George H.W. Bush administration, but was hamstrung by a 1997 U.S. Court of Appeals decision upholding a governor's right to veto off-reservation casino construction.

Then-Gov. Barbara Roberts overruled the federal decision and struck a deal with the Siletz Tribe, laying groundwork for its Lincoln City casino Chinook Winds.

So, what are the chances that a new governor will shelve Oregon’s long-standing policy of one casino per Tribe on Reservation land and allow the Siletz Tribe to build a second casino in Salem?

As far as Kotek is concerned, the status quo is fine.

“Tina supports the continuation of past practice, which is one casino per Tribe on Reservation land,” her campaign staff said in an e-mail to Smoke Signals.

Drazan’s stance is unknown. After numerous inquiries from Smoke Signals and back and forth e-mails with her communications staff, no response was received.

In addition, Johnson’s staff did not respond to a Smoke Signals request for comment.

The Siletz Tribe filed an application with the Department of the Interior to build an 180,800-square-foot casino with 2,000 gaming devices and 45 table games north of downtown Salem in April 2020.

During a January 2022 Bureau of Indian Affairs virtual public hearing on the Siletz proposal, 21 of the 28 speakers were Grand Ronde Tribal members or employees who unanimously spoke in opposition to the idea of allowing the Siletz Tribe to leapfrog over Spirit Mountain Casino and build a second casino closer to Salem.

In 2017, the Siletz Tribe proposed building a second casino at the 20-acre site off Interstate 5 and splitting the proceeds with the state of Oregon and eight other federally recognized Tribes in Oregon. The Grand Ronde Tribe objected to that proposal as well.

The Salem market has become more important to Grand Ronde’s Spirit Mountain Casino following the Cowlitz Tribe opening Ilani Casino approximately 17 miles north of the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area in April 2017.

Should the long-standing state policy end, the Grand Ronde Tribe also is poised to seek permission to build a second casino at the former Multnomah Greyhound Park site in Wood Village just east of Portland. The Tribe purchased the property in December 2015 and is currently working to have it taken into trust.

Election Day in Oregon is Tuesday, Nov. 8.