The Gorge Casino

This post has been updated below with additional clarification and breaking news.

Here at BlueOregon, we haven't yet had a conversation about the proposed casino in Cascade Locks. Here's where we stand now:

Oregonian, 5/20: "Kulongoski, a Democrat, agreed to let the Warm Springs [tribe] build on an industrial site in Cascade Locks in exchange for the tribe's promise to close its casino in Central Oregon and forgo developing a more sensitive site on tribal land in Hood River."

Yesterday, an unlikely coalition of organizations announced their opposition to the plan:

The Oregon Family Council, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Oregon Restaurant Association, Trout Unlimited, Oregon Center for Environmental Health, Friends of Mt. Hood, McKenzie Guardians, Stronger Families for Oregon, OSPIRG, Oregon Toxics Alliance, Parents Education Association and WashPIRG.

So, let's talk about it.

Given that a "no casino" option isn't available under federal law... where would you rather see the casino: on industrial land inside the Gorge Scenic Area, or on environmentally sensitive tribal land in Hood River?

Update: There has been quite a bit of discussion as to whether or not the Hood River option is, in fact, an option. We received this note from Michael Lange, conservation director of the Friends of Columbia Gorge:

Development of the site east of Hood River has never been an option. Numerous federal laws, include the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act itself, prohibits development of the site. The parcel of land in question is inaccessible by road, is on steep slopes and can't be developed. The only real plan is the one supported by Gov. Kulongoski for a 500,000 square-foot off-reservation casino in the small town of Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The proposal breaks Oregon's existing policy of one casino per tribe, located on the tribe's reservation. The off-reservation casino proposal is easily the biggest threat to the Columbia Gorge in the last 20 years. Federal review of this proposal will take years. In the coming months, we should ask why Kulongoski broke his campaign promise to uphold Oregon's policy barring off-reservation casinos, especially when our poll last week shows that 63% of Oregonians are opposed to a Gorge casino and 71% think that it will lead to more off-reservation casinos across the state.

Update: It appears that the gorge casino plan has been temporarily blocked by the Interior Department. From KGW:

The Interior Department said granting approval now would be premature because the tribes have not yet purchased the property where the casino would be built. "Only after the tribes have acquired the Cascade Locks land into trust, will the department consider the terms and conditions of a timely submitted compact," the department said in a letter to Kulongoski. ... Meantime, a spokesperson for Gov. Kulongoski's office told KGW as soon as the process is finished, the state will resubmit the same identical compact to the federal government and expects that it will gain approval.

Keep on discussing...

  • Kent (unverified)

    I feel like I've missed a crucial development along the way. Since when is it inevitable that we allow off-reservation casinos? Casinos on reservations, yes. But off-reservation casinos? Does Federal law protect them as well?

    But if off-reservation casinos are inevitable, then the State really ought to just work with the tribes to locate reasonable sites. Instead of the Gorge, let them put a Casino on 82nd Ave in Portland. What can that hurt? I flew out of SeaTac last week and noticed a Casino right on Pacific Highway (Highway 99) a couple miles south of the airport. At this point what's the big deal. That highway is already 98% blight just like 82nd. But keep them out of the gorge, not because they are casinos, but because they represent commercial development.

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    Kent, the sensitive land in Hood River is ON tribal land.

  • Cab (unverified)

    Lets just be done with it and put the damn think in Portland near the convention center with a 1000 room hotel. Its solves a few problems at once. I don't see anything wrong with the corporate trade show crowd supporting our tax base for schools and public safety. Its a win win.

  • Dale (unverified)

    In the best of all possible worlds I would be against a casino anyplace but in the 'real' world (is anything 'real'?) I like the convention center suggestion even though it won't happen because it makes too much sense.

  • paul h (unverified)

    Kari -- the property in Hood River may be tribally owned land, but it's not within the boundaries of any reservation. I don't know the legal details, but I believe it should still be considered off-reservation.

    As for the choice between Hood River and Cascade Locks, neither option is very good for many reasons. At least local residents are generally opposed in Hood River and in favor in Cascade Locks.

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    Paul... You may be right, but the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act doesn't say the casino has to be on reservation land. Simply that the casino has to be on land that is a) owned by the tribe, and b) within their traditional roaming area. Presuming that the Warm Springs tribe can prove that once upon a time they used to go up to Hood River, well, they're on solid ground.

    The point is this: If that's true, that they can put it in Hood River... is the Cascade Locks location a better or worse option? I have no idea...

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    If you've decided like me that you're against the Casino in Cascade Locks, here's an easy way to reach the people who's decision it is now.

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    Albert Kaufman, so you would rather have the Casino in Hood River?

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    Kari Chisholm are you sure about that?

    According to 25 U.S.C. 2703 ( :

    (4) The term "Indian lands" means--

    (A) all lands within the limits of any Indian reservation; and

    (B) any lands title to which is either held in trust by the United States for the benefit of any Indian tribe or individual or held by any Indian tribe or individual subject to restriction by the United States against alienation and over which an Indian tribe exercises governmental power.

    And according to § 2719 Gaming on lands acquired after October 17, 1988 it clearly states that it only applies oit lands contingious with or within the boundries of reservation lands.

    So I am not exactly sure where you are arriving at the position that if a tribe simply owns land, it automatically means that is is included within land that is covered by 25 U.S.C. 2703 as allowing Class II or Class III gambling.

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    Albert Kaufman, so you would rather have the Casino in Hood River?

    I'd prefer not to have a casino in that area at all. I don't believe the Hood River property is really a viable alternative. So, stopping the option they're moving on seems like a good move.

    btw, this action, posted above, was taken by more people who have signed up with Onward Oregon than any other. Says something. Says, many of us oppose this casino.

  • allehseya (unverified)

    I'm glad that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are a part of the coalition.

    I'm Lakota and have always opposed the casinos -- on the rez or off. There are many of us -- the Tribal Councils I worked with in upstate NY were always conflicted on the issue and it has always been more divisive than anything among the our tribes/nations/clans -- I'd hate for people to get the perception that all native americans support the casino model for generating tribal revenue or impacting the local economy.

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    Albert Kaufman you are still missing the point... if the legalities come down to Cascade Locks or Hood River locations for a casino, which is the better option of the two?

    I prefer for a Democratic controlled COngress and occupant of the White House, but it will not change the reality that we do not hold either branch of Government on the Federal level. Likewise, saying I don't like having a Casino at all, or anywhere along the Columbia may be a shared sentiment, but it is not really the issue since the options at this point is one or the other, not a 'neither' option.

    I also find it rather curious that we progressives are all for tribal sovereignty of lands owned by tribes, yet arrogate ourselves the position to try and dictate what tribes do on their land.

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    I prefer Cascade Locks to HR because of both the current demographics and the impact on the repective communities.

    You'll wind up with the retired gamblers in their giant Runamaccas in what is essentially the only "red" town between Portland and The Dalles. The people that live there are already on record as welcoming the development.

    Hood River is a Neo-hippie town with predictable esthetic values that want no part of the development. These folks are aligned with the Bus Project, Onward Oregon, ONRC world view, and like our own Albert Kaufman will use any tactic and fight tooth and nail to prohibit any development outside of the PDX urban growth boundary anyway.


    A few months back, when the "call to action" first went out on this thing, I suggested that the green warriors get in touch with the Cow Creek Band of the Umpquas. I doubt that they did, but they're allies now as the Cow Creek Band will lose significant revenue at their current location if this goes through.


    Anyhow, I'm rooting for the Warm Springs kids. They have developed a very good administrative team over the years. Logging (mostly Ponderosa Pine) is no longer a viable option for sustained revenue, and this is a way for them to acquire a revenue stream to address the poverty, education, and health care issues that they face on the reservation.

  • MAJ (unverified)

    We need a downtown casino to fill the demand without requiring excessive travel through either scenic or sentive areas. It is not a hard issue.

  • Michael Lang (unverified)

    First, a "no casino" option in the Columbia Gorge IS valid under state and federal law. A casino can't be built on tribally owned land east of Hood River - both legal and practical impediments bar its development. Governor Kulongoski's plan for Oregon's first off reservation casino in the heart of the Columbia Gorge breaks our state policy limiting casinos to reservation lands, setting a precedent for more off-reservation casinos in the Gorge and throughout the state. The real issue here is that breaking our state's policy barring off-reservation casinos and sticking the state's largest casino in the middle of a national scenic treasure is wrong. Tribes, businesses, environmental groups and local residents are all working in conjunction to make sure that this mega-casino will never happen.

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    Sigh. I want a sales tax. I want a state legislature that can pass a budget. I don't want my kids to lose school days and have 50 person classes and lose more of the arts, music, PE, and other "frills" that have already been carved away from the schools.

    On Kari's choice, it's easy. Put is in Cascade Locks and let Hood River (via Prop 37) become a yuppie vacation home playground.

    Do I like casinos? No. But what other choice is there?

    Oregon is addicted to the gambling teat. I say put it in Portland and let's face up to the fact that we aren't really so different from Nevada, Iowa, Louisiana, and other states that can't figure out how to run a state budget without gambling dollars.

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    I would much rather be saying that I don't want a casino at all, but since that's not the question I'll play along. The Gorge is beautiful, right? And -- to keep people from perceiving whether it's day or night -- casinos have no windows. The casino doesn't need the view and we don't need the casino on the landscape. So if there has to be a casino, put it in whichever location it's least likely to be seen by those of us who don't want to see it. Anyone looking for it will find it. They can just follow the traffic.

  • Bill (unverified)

    If there is to be a casino in Cascade Locks, it appears the proposed site is next to the railroad line. To cut down on traffic & pollution, why not have a "Casino Train" roll out there a few times a day from the Portland area? You could even have it go to other sites in the gorge and make it a "Gorge Train."

  • MarkDaMan (unverified)

    I spent several years down in Phoenix, a city with no land use laws and more sprawling subdivisions than Los Angeles. The only limit to Phoenix's growth is the surrounding reservations. Even though the Native American tribes had thousands of acres surrounding our communities, they decided to build casino after casino right next to the cities of Scottsdale (the equivalent to Lake O) Chandler (Hillsboro) and many other sprawlburbs. I can remember when the first casinos where going up not that many years ago and there were plenty of arguments about gambling too close to the cities and the traps casinos build (no windows, no clocks). Thugs even blocked freeway off ramps so the slots and tables couldn't be unloaded into the buildings. Eventually they opened and they did big business.

    Business was so good that the casinos morphed into a series of five star resorts with names like Harrah's and Sheraton attached to them. A few years after the casinos opened the brouhaha about them died down. Having personally worked in a non casino resort all the out of towner guests asked, "how can we get to the casino we passed on our way in," one casino was less than a five minute drive from the airport that virtually every east valley visitor passed on their way in. Eventually even I (after turning 18 of course) ventured into these casinos and let me tell you, they are nothing the way they are described by previous posts here. The casino's were beautiful, big domed skylights dominated the ceiling; a creek with gondolas ran between the guest rooms, golf courses and the casino floor. With the exception of the bingo hall, the air was clear, and waitresses walked past with free sodas (not booze) while you were playing.

    I never once heard about the major social problems created by gambling addiction in Phoenix that you hear argued constantly here, although I'm sure they existed and have destroyed more than one family. The tribes however, seemed to be more integrated into our communities and worked (or forced) an agreement out with the state. There is now a form of profit sharing, all these casinos contributed money to fund the programs helping treat addicted gamblers, they contribute money to the school fund, and they paid for artistic improvements to the freeways that passed by them not to mention a nice chunk of change to the state treasury.

    To me, having to drive an hour to and hour and a half to go to the closest casino, if I ever decide to do so here, seems ridiculous to me. I'm sure it wont deter me, especially if I indeed become addicted, and the harm it will do to have, lets say, three million more car trips through the gorge a year (isn't that Spirit Mountains yearly visitor total) seems like we would be shooting ourselves in the foot by not allowing them closer in and out of the gorge. Wouldn't it make more sense to just legalize a limited and controlled amount of casinos, private or tribal owned, with strict guidelines on what lands they can build on close to our major cities and without polluting of our scenic areas? Our flexibility would allow the state to form a generous profit sharing agreement because non tribal casinos can been forced to profit share and can be taxed.

    The casinos will come, and they will get closer, if not from our local Oregon tribes, they will show up closer on the other side of the river, leaving us to foot the bill for gambling addicts, while getting nothing but the pollution from cars as the people whizz by on their way up. I say we build our first one in Jantzen beach!

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    I still prefer the "neither" option for casinos in the Gorge. If the current proposal dies in Gale Norton's hands, then the Hood River folks will continue to fight against one coming to their town. Be glad to continue to support them, too.

    A big question in my mind is "why did the Governor push for this?" What's in it for him? Kitzhaber pushed back against this idea for years, why did Ted push for it?

    After the recent article on about our oil-less future, I wonder if it makes sense to build anything that people will have to drive a long way to get to. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it makes sense to build a casino in Jantzen Beach, but building it in Cascade Locks seems like a bad business proposition as oil gets more precious.

    Love the train idea, though. Even without the Casino, that would be a neat addition. Would be great if there were a Mt. Hood spur, too that could get skiiers and hikers closer to the new Mount Hood National Park.

  • Aaron (unverified)


    The Governor has rural health cut down to the bone, so he is giving them a casino to cure their ills.

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    The Governor has rural health cut down to the bone, so he is giving them a casino to cure their ills.

    No, I don't think that's it. This doesn't throw anyone a bone, except perhaps the Warm Springs Tribe. And, some local landowners and perhaps a few hundred service jobs, and some transportation money, ok, so there's going to be some revenue generated. But I don't think this solves any of rural OR's issues. No, there is something else going on here, and I can't tell what it is. Why would a Dem Gov. push a casino? Doesn't make me want to work for him in the upcoming election, or to elect him, to be frank. But there it is. Interesting, very interesting...

  • charlie (unverified)

    I agree with Cab and Dale, except why not put it at dog track in east Multnomah County? They already have a ton of parking space, close to I-84 and the airport.

  • Cab (unverified)

    Charlie, You don't get the out of state business in that area. One of our problems in not having a sales tax is the limited out of state money dropped by tourists. With a Casino (Don't forget we get a headquarters hotel out of the deal) right next to the convention center we would get the most bang for the buck. Better yet put the damn thing in the Airport and really exploit out of towners. Too much is being made of the local issues. Other then moving money around what does capturing local money do for the overall state? We need outside of state revenue sources. The convention center casino is the way to go.

  • el (unverified)

    It's a sad, sad day when we have to go to George Bush's federal administration to save the Columbia Gorge from turning into Vegas North.

  • Rachel (unverified)

    Kari, we all should learn more about the facts. Unfortunately there has been a real vacuum, until this unlikely coalition popped up recently, spewing out a lot of misinformation. I don’t trust Friends of the Gorge anymore. Since when did environmentalists and Christian fundamentalists band together to become pawns of a major economic player that has a monopoly on the market share and will do anything to maintain it? If you watched local news in the past week, you know that The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Rhonde, owners of Spirit Mountain Casino, are the force -and $$$- behind this ‘unlikely coalition’. Did you see the ad paid for by the coalition? Can't anyone else see how diabolical this all is?

  • Brian (unverified)

    About the "no casino" option: it's a real one. Under the IGRA, if the governor of the state where the casino is to be located does not agree that it would benefit the tribal applicant, the surrounding community, and the other tribes in the area, he or she can veto the deal. The Secretary of the Interior, who arguably has the final say, must heed the "governor's concurrence" to the application for off-reservation gaming.

    So here's my take:

    The tribe owns the land, and can apply to have it taken into trust for gaming purposes. If they apply, then the Gov. has to either give concurrence, refuse to do so, or say nothing (which acts like a pocket veto), and face the political consequences. Evidently, the Gov. has decided that it is politically better to okay a Gorge casino so that he can keep the "one casino per tribe" policy. The only way to stop this thing for sure is to get the Gov. to withhold his concurrence, like the Gov. of Wisconsin did when the Lac Courte Oreilles wanted to put a casino at an old dog track in Hudson, WI.

    Also remember that (for those who don't know anything about Indian Country) tribes are competitors. They always have been, since before the first white person set foot on this continent. There is no such thing anymore, if in fact there ever was, as a "pan-Indian" aesthetic. Grand Ronde's operations would be put at a competitive disadvantage by a Warm Springs gorge casino. Period. Just because they're Indians doesn't mean they're looking to help each other out.

    That having been said, you will see an "arms race" of sorts among tribal casino operators if this gorge casino goes through.

  • Roger Freeborn, Former Mayor Cascade Locks (unverified)

    Personal message To Michael Lang (FOG), From Roger Freeborn, Former Mayor of Cascade Locks.

    Michael, I wonder if you remember the day you and Kevin Gorman met with myself several other Cascade Locks City Officials and a HR County Official in the Cascade Locks Industrial Park to tour an alternative (now proposed) Casino site to Government Rock or the Hood River site? After we finished the tour you announced "THE FRIENDS WILL NOT OPPOSE THIS SITE FOR A CASINO BUT WE WILL NOT PUBLICALLY SUPPORT IT." I guess the times have changed as I now see a lot of opposition and (you did stay true to this part) no public support and I'm glad for you. I'm glad that the controversry you are fueling at the expense of My Towns hard work and efforts to bring Economic Developement to Cascade Locks has netted the FOG at least one new financial sponsor and I hope you have received a substantial pay raise from your members for your efforts to sell out my trust in your word.

    We included you and your group in the planning process every step of the way, we kept no secrets from you, We didn't have to do this, we felt it best to work with as many groups as possible up-front to address all concerns (something I've been taught by the Warm Springs People). Your concerns were heard hence moving the proposed location from Hood River to Cascade Locks, this made you happy at the time but I guess your trust and word come with a financial price we couldn't afford. Now it looks like you work for another Casino (Spirit Mountain).

    If the Friends of the Gorge and this new Coalition really want to help Oregon and Oregonians why don't you sponsor some substantial economic developement or participate (in a large way) in the Governors "War on Meth" or figure out how to funnel money into the States School System.

    Taking on a small town with limited resources is easy and who do you help? Oh yeah, I forgot you may have just gotten a pay raise.

    I find it hard to believe the Public Perception (that you and your group have helped fuel)of The People of Cascade Locks and the Warm Springs Tribe, that we want to rape the Gorge. Nothing could be further from the truth, most of us living here are transplants from the Portland Metro Area who moved here for the quality of life not the least of which is the scenic beauty. As for the Tribes Members they just want to come Home and make a living in an enterprise they have every right to pursue.

    Have you been to Kah-Nee-Ta lately? Oh yeah I forgot again. Remember the day we spent touring Warm Springs Reservation (on their dime), We were all very impressed including yourself as to what wonderful Stewards of the Land they are. Do you really believe the Warm Springs Tribe is going to invade Cascade Locks and build a shack and hope nobody notices. You've seen the drawings of the proposed Warm Springs developement and it blows all the other Casino Developements in the Northwest away. You've seen the Warm Springs plans for water, land, fish and recreation protection and developement, it meets and exceeds what the State, Feds and Friends of the Gorge have or will do for this area of the Gorge.

    After all this work with your group I don't get it. I (and I hope others) will began to take you for what you are, a well paid pupet for a minority of special interest people. Enjoy the gravy train while it lasts because in my lifetime or after there will be a Warm Springs Tribe owned Casino in the Gorge and My hope is that it be built in Cascade Locks.

    A POPULAR MISCONCEPTION: A casino built in Cascade Locks would be the first “off-reservation” casino in Oregon? THIS QUESTION/ASSUMPTION IS BEING RAISED BY TOO MANY PEOPLE WITHOUT REGARD TO THE FOLLOWING FACTS.

    It is a little known fact that many of the Federally-recognized Oregon tribes have built their casinos on land they added to their reservation for purposes of gaming. These “restored tribes” – including the Grand Ronde [Spirit Mountain Casino], the Coos/Lower Umpqua/Siuslaw [Three Rivers Casino – Florence], the Coquille [The Old Mill Casino – North Bend] and the Siletz [Lincoln City – about 50 miles from their reservation] – used special Congressional Acts or federal laws to acquire the specific new land parcels for their casinos. Similarly, the Warm Springs are proposing to use Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to bring 35 acres in Cascade Locks into trust for the purpose of a gaming facility.

    Stay tuned for more comments

    Roger Freeborn Former Mayor of Cascade Locks 2 year Cancer Survivor

  • Chuck Daughtry, Port of Cascade Locks General Manager (unverified)

    Great comments Roger. Expose the self serving monied interests that can't seem to be truthful. How can Michael Lang and the Friends think that they are more environmentally friendly than the Warm Springs? Wasn't the Gorge in better shape before the Native Americans were removed to the reservation after over 10,000 years of stewardship? There isn't a "no casino" option. There really shouldn't be any question at all concerning the Warm Springs rights to develop a casino at their Hood River location. Land in trust prior to 1988 is eligible for gaming. Period. I confirmed this personally with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Scenic Area Act provides no protection of the site in Hood River as tribal trust land is excempt from the Act. The Friends of the Gorge know this and are purposely mistating the facts. From the Indians perspective, the Warm Springs would rather be in a community that wants them, Cascade Locks, then one that doesn't. However, some of the tribal members would like to build the casino in Hood River just to proof that they can! Concerning the Port's land, we believe that the tribal resort will have the no greater impact than anything else that we could place at the site. The land is zoned heavy industrial. We could recruit a steel mill, a super Walmart, Six Flags over Oregon, NASCAR, a Union Pacific rail switching yard, a paper mill or a lumber mill to the site. Picture billing smokestacks, diesel trains ideling, piles of raw materials. Go look at the site as it is today. Bear Mt. Inc manufactures wood pellets from large piles of wood chips. Picture the whole site stockpiled with raw materials. There is nothing at all that the Friends, or Congressmen Wu could do to stop the Port from developing the site unless Congress changes the Scenic Area Act. The Cascade Locks urban area is excempt from the scenic area restrictions. If the Cascade Locks casino is stopped, the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department would work hard to find a heavy industrial user to locate on Port property.

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    Mr. Freeborn and Mr. Daughtry--

    I'm trying to put together info on this issue. Could you please contact me?


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