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Two casino measures on the Oregon ballot

By Joe Burns
Published On: Oct 25 2012 08:59:04 PM CDT

In a Decision 2012 special report, NewsChannel 21's Joe Burns looks at the debate over two measures to allow Oregon's first non-tribal casino - and supporters' late decision to stop ad campaign.

BEND, Ore. -

It's been discussed before, most recently in 2010: allowing a private casino in Oregon.

But recently in this election, when supporters of the two casino measures announced they were stopping their campaign, some wondered if it meant that we just are not ready to open up more casinos in Oregon.

Others say if it does not pass, Oregonians will have made a mistake.   

"If The Grange gets built here, it will bring a lot of good jobs," says one political ad in support of the measures that was running statewide until recently.

For the supporters of Measures 82 and 83, it was a lot more than just building a privately owned casino.

"Permanent jobs -- over 2,000," said Clifford Cook, a Bend resident in support of the measure. "I don't think we can brush that aside."

"It's some place fun to go and take family and meet friends and spend a wonderful day," Cook said.

Along with the 2,000 permanent jobs, 3,000 construction jobs and a casino, it also would be an entertainment spot and destination resort.

"There would be parks, bowling alley, movie theater," Cook said.

But just as supporters were ramping up their campaign, so was the opposition, enlisting some heavyweight foes, including four former governors.

"The casino would be larger than any casino in Las Vegas" said an opposing political ad.

"Measures 82 and 83 would allow unlimited casinos across Oregon" said another opposition spot.

That statement, according to Cook, is just not true. Measure 82 says a new casino has to be 60 miles away from an existing casino.

"You are not going to have casinos just popping up in every little town," Cook said. "It's not going to happen."

Cook also says if another company wants to build another casino, it has to go through an initiative process to get on a ballot and voted on by Oregonians.

Then a surprising twist -- supporters of the measures stopped their campaign.

In a statement, the campaign said it realized that "not enough Oregon voters are ready to add a private casino to the state's gaming options."

"It does make me kind of wonder what they know that we don't know yet," said Laurie Gould, chairwoman of Deschutes Democrats.

Gould's party is not in favor of the measures, especially amending the state Constitution.

"The Constitution is kind of a big deal," Gould said."I think when you amend it, it should be a thoughtful process and shouldn't just be targeted toward one specific business."

It wasn't just the Oregon Democratic party in opposition, but Oregon Republicans also, including Deschutes County GOP spokesman John Philo.

"The Republicans don't want to interfere with their income in the state and the established casinos the Indians have on their reservations," Philo said.

The opposition also includes the current governor.

"I'm John Kitzhaber, and I'm asking you to vote no on ballot Measures 82 and 83," the governor said in a current TV ad.

Kitzhaber says in the ad that the tribes, which agreed to one casino per tribe in Oregon, promised to contribute to local charities, and over the last 20 years, the tribes have given $100 million.

"They kept our promise to us -- let's keep our promise to them," Kitzhaber said.

Cook says The Grange would pay state and local taxes, something the nine tribal casinos don't do.

Philo said just let the tribes keep their casinos.

"The tribes have their casinos, and they have done an excellent job running their casinos," Philo said. "And I think they have a good handle on that business."

And even in the midst of likely defeat, supporters like Cook are still voting yes.

A KATU News poll conducted on Oct. 17 from Portland showed 53 percent of voters don't want Measure 82 to pass and 54 percent oppose Measure 83.

Both Gould and Philo tell me there are other important measures on the ballot their parties are focusing on, including ones to legalize marijuana and abolish estate taxes.

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