Casino draws backers, but also opponents
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
Advocates proposing a $3 million dollar non-tribal casino—The Grange— might as well be throwing the dice in a gamble to convince Oregon voters that a giant megaplex to replace the abandoned greyhound race track in Wood Village truly is “Fun for you. Good for Oregon,” as the casino’s campaign slogan advertises.
Two years ago, voters statewide defeated a similar privately-owned, for-profit casino at the former racing park east of Portland, by a 2-1 margin.
But the Grange is “different” say the casino’s Canadian investors, Great Canadian Gaming Corp. and Clairvest Group, Inc. They advertise a family-friendly entertainment center complete with a water park slide, bowling alley, hotel plaza and theater.
The casino backers also promise 2,000 jobs with healthcare benefits and 25 percent of the casino’s yearly revenue (estimated at about $1 million) for Oregon public schools.
Before any cutting of grand opening ribbons, voters must approve two state-wide measures in the Nov 6 general election. Measures 82 amends the Oregon Constitution to allow privately-owned casinos, and Measure 83 authorizes for a single privately-owned casino in Multnomah County capable of operating up to 3,500 slot machines.
The 4,000 residents of Wood Village must also vote yes on Measure 26-142. If one of the three measures fails, all go down together.
While the Grange has drawn supporters, a number of critics oppose the idea, most obviously tribal governments who say a non-tribal casino breaches current state agreements with tribes.
The Portland Observer was interested to know how local residents feel about the proposals.
We started by asking some small businesses who participate in the Oregon Lottery. A new glistening Vegas-style casino so close to Portland could lure valued customers away from local bars and restaurants who rely on state-run video poker machines for needed revenues.
“Most certainly it would draw customers away from smaller businesses in the area,” said Nighthawk Café and Lounge owner Bill Mildenberger, whose family runs the video-lottery-friendly, old school restaurant and bar on North Interstate Avenue.
Mildenberger said it would be hypocritical for him to oppose gambling, but he doesn’t support the Wood Village casino.
“Once you open up a place like the Grange, it opens doors to opening similar larger casinos in other parts of the city, again drawing customers away from other small, family owned and operated businesses,” he said.
So what’s to stop Portland from turning into a Las Vegas strip? If the Constitution is changed with the upcoming vote, not much.
Under Measure 82, future investors would be permitted to open private casinos in Portland, but not within 60 miles of tribal casinos and not without voters’ consent. Currently there are nine tribal casinos in Oregon, one per each tribe.
Fears of a big casino luring vice, crime and a growing gambling addiction is also set against Portland’s clean, green and bike-friendly reputation.
Woodlawn resident Alison Verville says a glitzy casino in Wood Village would be too tacky.
“It’s doesn’t fit well with what we represent or promote as a city,” said Verville.
A couple on Northeast Alberta Street agreed, saying a large casino development near the scenic Columbia River Gorge will cause increased traffic, air pollution and other environmental problems.
“It will increase gambling and feed people’s addictions,” said Jackie Tate, a case manager for the elderly and disabled and a northeast Portland resident. “It’s going to hurt exactly the people they say it’s going to help.”
Benjamin Clark, a resident of Portland for 50 years, thinks the casino would harm the city’s worldwide reputation as an attractive place to live.
He is also concerned about the Grange having foreign owners.
“The rich man is coming to our town, and he’s here to rip off the people,” said Clark.
Another northeast Portland resident said he was concerned about a casino that targets poor people as customers providing profits to a private corporation that runs it.
It’s a transfer of wealth away from poor people in the community, he said.
“I don’t gamble,” said another local man. “People are broke already. People will spend all their money there.”
One young resident, who supports the proposals, says he doesn’t care if people drink and gamble, as long as the Canadian investors donate to local schools.
“I’m happy if it’s going to contribute to our economy and our schools,” said another local man. “I’m not happy about it if there is no Indian involvement. It all just depends where the money is going.”
Originally from Oklahoma and new to northeast Portland, Travis Cheney said, “I hear it might take away from the Native Americans and for that reason alone, I would be against it.”