From NR Today:
A Roseburg man who sat on a panel that debated two measures on the November ballot said he found compelling arguments to allow Oregon’s first private casino to open at the old Multnomah Kennel Club complex east of Portland.
Larry Hassett, 69, a retired civil engineer technician with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, was in the minority.
The Citizens’ Initiative Review, a panel of 24 Oregonians selected at random from voter registration lists, spent five days at a Portland hotel studying Measures 82 and 83.
They listened and questioned supporters and opponents of the proposed Wood Village casino, along with neutral experts.
Hassett was one of seven panelists to favor the proposal, while 17 opposed it.
“What I like about this process is that control is in the hands of the people, not the Legislature,” Hassett said. “The people in the state have to approve it, and the people in the area have to approve it.”
Measure 82 will ask voters to lift a constitutional ban against private casinos. Measure 83 would specifically authorize the Wood Village casino. Separately, Wood Village residents will vote on whether to allow the casino.
Two Canadian companies want to develop what is being called The Grange, a $300 million entertainment complex with a casino, hotel, swimming pool and movie theater. Developers are working to reverse the outcome of a similar effort two years ago in which only 32 percent of voters approved the plan.
Hassett said he liked the boost to the economy the development would provide, both during construction and when the casino opened. Panelists were told, he said, the company planned to hire 2,000 employees and that the average worker would earn $35,000 a year.
A provision in Measure 83 requires a private casino operator to provide 25 percent of adjusted gross revenues, an estimated $32 million to $54 million, for public services.
“I approved of that,” Hassett said.
The development, Hassett said, would lower unemployment rates and likely lead to business opportunities for other companies in the area. A retired Oregon State Police official told the panel there would not likely be a significant increase in crime because of the casino, a concern for many people, Hassett said.
The panelists who voted against the measures worried that approval would increase the influence of outside interests on gambling in Oregon. They said a change in the state constitution, with no clear direct benefit to Oregonians, was not worth possible negative effects, including a rise in the number of problem gamblers.
That group also worried about the potential loss of revenue for lottery game operators in the east Portland metropolitan area. They also expressed concerns for reduced revenue for tribal casinos, which benefit tribal members and mostly rural communities with social service programs that receive 6 percent of adjusted gross revenues.
Oregon tribes, including the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe — which operates the Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville — oppose Measures 82 and 83.
“Yes, we are opposed to them, for many good reasons,” said Wayne Shammel, Cow Creek tribal attorney.
Shammel and representatives of other Oregon tribes argue private casinos would break a promise to Oregon’s tribes, which agreed to concessions in order to receive the blessings of the state to allow tribal casinos. The tribes, which agreed to a limit of one casino per tribe, could have pressed demands to establish casinos on sovereign tribal land without negotiating a compact with the state.
Seventy-five percent of the supplies and services required by Oregon tribal casinos are obtained from Oregon companies, Shammel said. There’s no guarantee that the foreign group looking to develop The Grange would feel that kind of loyalty to in-state companies, he said.
Panelists who opposed the measures also said they were bothered by the idea that foreign companies would profit from money spent in Oregon, Hassett said. He said he was less bothered by that thought, since Oregon benefits in a similar way when tourists come to the state.
“If we want out-of-state money to come into our coffers, we have to be willing to let some of it go,” he said.
While five days to study the issues and listen to advocates on both sides may seem more than adequate, Hassett said he would have liked to have spent even more time on the project.
“There just wasn’t enough time,” he said. “I think it was very interesting. I learned a lot.”