Should Oregonians Take A Gamble Based on Fear, Lies, and Racism?

15 Oct

On November 6 Oregon voters are being presented with two ballot measures that would create the state’s first private casino. Ballot Measure 82 would amend the constitution to allow private casinos in addition to the nine casinos operated by Federally recognized tribes in the state; Measure 83 would authorize a casino — potentially named “The Grange” — in Wood Village, a small town just east of Portland. The backers of the casino plan are aggressively marketing the measures as something good for Oregon. How accurate are their claims?

Who are the backers of these measures? Two businessmen from Lake Oswego (also sadly known as Lake No Negro), another Portland suburb, and Clairvest, a Canadian firm that operates private casinos in other locations. They’ve tried to pass similar measures before and been soundly defeated. This year they’re using the bad economy, deception, and racism to try one more time.

The nine tribally operated casinos are distributed around the state. The tribes built these casinos based on promises that no private casinos would be built; this included huge investments in land and construction. Tribal casinos provide millions of dollars to local communities — not just tribes — distributed through non-profit foundations. They employ thousands of people of every ethnicity; approximately 75% of the purchases they make come from local businesses.

The backers of Measures 82 and 83 use blatantly racist language to imply selfishness and misdeeds by the tribes. Ignoring the huge local benefits, they emphasize the relative populations fo the tribes and the state, implying greed. Their ads set up the tribes as mysterious “others” who hide their profits. The backers say that the tribal casinos would still benefit “their communities,” setting up an ugly us-and-them mentality. To top it all off, they build on centuries of oppression and genocide, content to reap their corporate profits at the expense of tribal revenues.

And just how honest are the backers? Not very. They point out that 25% of the gross revenues of the casino would go to schools, parks, and economic development. They don’t say that 80% of that money would actually go into the Lottery fund; it currently supports those activities, but that is a very different fact. They also ignore the fact that lottery games give 65% of their proceeds to public causes. That means that the money the private casinos draw away from local lottery business will give back 40% less money. The backers also don’t publicize the fact that Measure 83 grants them an exemption from the annual tax on any lottery machines they would operate, giving them another unfair advantage.

Supporters of the measures talk about the hypothetical 2,000 jobs the Grange would create. They ignore the small businesses that would go under. They ignore the impact on the infrastructure of the county that is not funded in any way. They talk about the “Oregon taxpaying corporation” that would be created to run the casino without mentioning that it would be primarily owned by an international company that would take most of the revenue out of Oregon — unlike the tribal casinos. They hide the fact that Measure 83 authorizes the casino operation without guaranteeing any of the other amenities that Clairvest says it will put in the Grange. We just have to take their word for it.

Besides Measures 82 and 83, the city of Wood Village (home to Karen Minnis, the homophobic ex-Speaker of Oregon’s House of Representatives) would have to approve the Grange. That puts the final decision in the hands of 3800 people, about 1/100th of the population of the state. Every aspect of this proposal is suspect at best and nefarious at worst. Governor Kitzhaber has opposed the measures, an unusual stand for someone in office. Three former governors — both Republican and Democrats — have come out strongly in opposition. The Grange is a pie-in-the-sky boondoggle, a money-maker for people who won’t take NO for an answer. It’s being sold on deception and racism. It’s bad for Oregon and should be rejected soundly, just like the last time.

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