- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Momentum for off-reservation gambling at Indian-owned casinos might be slowing after the Interior Department rejected a deal for a tribal casino near the Columbia River in Oregon, lawmakers on both sides of the issue say.

“There are many members of Congress who are … deeply concerned about the proliferation of off-reservation Indian gambling casinos,” said Rep. David Wu, Oregon Democrat.

Mr. Wu, who opposes the Oregon plan, said the federal decision “will give Oregonians a chance to reconsider the kind of state we wish to be.”

On Friday, the Interior Department temporarily blocked a proposal by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to build a casino in Cascade Locks, about 40 miles east of Portland in the Columbia River Gorge. Tribal leaders estimate that the casino would draw 3 million people a year.

The department last week left open the possibility that it will approve the deal later, but said it would not do so unless it rules that the off-reservation land can be taken into trust for gambling — a process that could take years.

The department’s decision represents a policy reversal. Officials earlier typically approved tribal agreements signed with state governors, then decided whether to allow off-reservation gambling.

Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the department, called the new policy more logical, but Mr. Wu said politics probably played a role.

“I think the Department of Interior has sensed there is a change in congressional attitude, and for various reasons of its own, I think it is also in the process of shifting its position,” said Mr. Wu, who wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton opposing the Warm Springs plan.

Although most of the nation’s 411 tribal casinos are on reservations, tribes increasingly are looking beyond their borders for better locations — including urban areas such as Portland, Denver and the San Francisco Bay.

Gambling at Indian-owned casinos pulled in about $18.5 billion last year, nearly double the take from gambling at major Nevada resorts.

Members of Congress from both parties have expressed concern about the trend toward off-reservation gambling. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has proposed a bill that would block an Indian tribe from building a Nevada-style casino across the Bay from San Francisco.

A key House Republican who wants to restrict off-reservation gambling called the Interior Department’s decision appropriate.

“Concerns about off-reservation gaming continue to be a topic of discussion in local communities, state governments and among members of Congress,” said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo, California Republican.

Mr. Pombo has said he will offer a bill this year to restrict off-reservation casinos.

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