- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. (AP) — For at least 12,000 years, Columbia River tribes gathered nearby to conduct business with distant tribes. Now they want to return — to deal blackjack and poker.

The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs want to close a small casino on their reservation in remote central Oregon and build one on non-tribal land in Cascade Locks, much closer to Portland and its thousands of potential gamblers.

Officials in the struggling town of 1,100 see the venture as their last, best hope to bring back people and tourist dollars.

But Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, formed to protect the beauty of one of the nation’s first designated national scenic areas, pales at the thought, predicting pollution, crowds and bad precedent.

Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski, a Democrat, has said he hopes to decide the matter before the Legislative Assembly convenes Jan. 10.

But Michael Lang of Friends of the Columbia River Gorge says it is not entirely Mr. Kulongoski’s call. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act says the governor and the U.S. interior secretary must agree that it is in the best interests of the tribe and surrounding community.

If the casino is built in Cascade Locks, it would be the closest of Oregon’s nine tribal casinos to Portland, which is about 40 miles to the west. All are on reservation land.

Of the nation’s 354 tribal-owned casinos, only three are off Indian land.

Mr. Lang said putting a 500,000-square-foot casino on non-tribal land in the gorge would defile “one of Oregon’s crown jewels” and break with policy.

“What we would see is that every other tribe in Oregon would expect equal treatment,” he said. “Are we ready to break with policy and head off in a new direction and have casinos encircling urban areas in Oregon?”

If the 60 percent unemployment on the reservation is the main concern, Mr. Lang said, the tribes should expand the smaller casino they already have on their reservation 50 miles to the south.

Bob Willoughby, the city administrator, says the casino is key to Cascade Locks’ survival. The city has maintained its peak 1950s and 1960s population levels only through annexations at a time when Oregon’s population is soaring, he said.

Mr. Willoughby also cited declines in the wood products industry and construction jobs that came with building Interstate 84 and a second powerhouse for the Bonneville Dam.

“We’re tourism-based now, and that base is the 100 days of summer,” he said. “In the 1950s, we had 90 businesses here. We have about 19 now, and many of them are for sale.”

Tribal officials say they want to build a casino closer to Portland — the state’s largest city — to increase revenue. Spokesman Len Bergstein described the proposed building site as “an ideal compromise.”

“It is in an industrial park where the community wants this development to occur,” he said.

The tribes could build on land they own in nearby Hood River, but Mr. Bergstein said Hood River doesn’t want it and that the tribes don’t want to build where they aren’t welcome.

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