Casino trade offered

Grants Pass – The tribe with Oregon’s most profitable casino has offered to help another tribe build a casino on its reservation in Central Oregon if it will drop plans to build one that taps the lucrative Portland-area gambling market.

But the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs are not likely to go for the offer.

Projected revenues from a casino on the remote Central Oregon reservation are projected to be far below those from their proposed casino in the Columbia Gorge town of Cascade Locks and less than what the tribe needs to help its members out of poverty, tribal advisers said.

„I don’t see any likelihood,“ that the offer will be accepted, said Warm Springs tribal attorney Dennis Karnopp from his office in Bend.

The closest of nine Oregon tribal casinos to Portland, the Grand Ronde tribe’s Spirit Mountain Casino is the biggest and most profitable in the state and is Oregon’s top tourist attraction.

Revenues are not public information. It is about 50 miles southwest of Portland, mostly on local highways.

The Warm Springs want to build a USD 389 million casino and resort in Cascade Locks, about 45 miles east of Portland along Interstate 84. The tribes are waiting for federal approval to include the site in tribal lands so a casino can be built.

Located off main highways and some 90 miles southeast of Portland, the Warm Springs’ Kah-Nee-Ta High Desert Resort and Casino is among the smaller casinos in the state.

The May 9 letter signed by Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy invites the Warm Springs Tribal Council to meet to hear their offer to finance “on favorable terms” a new casino along Highway 26 on the Warm Springs reservation about 50 miles north of Bend and about 80 miles southeast of Portland.

„We believe strongly that a new casino on your reservation off of Highway 26 or Highway 22 would be incredibly successful,“ the letter said. “The development of this alternative casino, instead of the proposed project in Cascade Locks, would be good for both our Tribes and for all of Oregon.

„It would also avoid an acrimonious fight over off-reservation gaming and the casino at Cascade Locks, allowing you to move forward more quickly to generate jobs and revenue.“

„It’s an offer we are extending in all sincerity and good faith,“ said Siobhan Taylor, director of public affairs for the Grand Ronde. „We feel it is a favorable economic alternative we are offering them.“

Len Bergstein, casino consultant to the Warm Springs tribes, said only a casino near Portland would generate the more than USD 100 million needed to help the tribe’s more than 4,000 members overcome 50 percent unemployment and other problems.

„Everybody who has watched this at all knows the (Grand Ronde) would take an off-reservation casino in Portland in a heartbeat if they could get it,“ Bergstein said from Portland. „It’s apparent to me that the Grand Ronde Council is coming under a considerable amount of heat from other tribes throughout the Northwest for the way in which they are attempting to kill the chance for an impoverished tribe to get some economic self-sufficiency.“

Taylor acknowledged that the Grand Ronde has tried to build a casino in Portland, which is part of the area they occupied before they were forced onto a reservation and later disbanded by the federal government, but gave up when it became clear the state of Oregon would continue to oppose tribal casinos off current reservation lands.

When Gov. Ted Kulongoski agreed to support the Warm Springs effort in Cascade Locks, the Grand Ronde felt it had to protect its economic interests, she said.

„We will work to safeguard our tribe — anyone would do that,“ she said. „But we also acknowledge that as tribal members we want to reach out to the Warm Springs tribes to help them with what we feel is a win-win situation for both us, keeping it on reservation lands.“