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December 18th, 2002 The Nose | The Nose
 

Cold feet about Warm Springs.

     
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IMAGE: basil childers
The Nose doesn't know a semiconductor from a Seminole, but having spent a fair amount of time at a blackjack table, he feels qualified to offer an opinion about the state's fastest-growing industry.

That's because it's snake-eyes, not silicon, that fuels Oregon's economic engine.

Think about it.

Ten years ago, you couldn't find a craps table in this state. Now, you can't swing a dream catcher without hitting a casino.

The Nose was reminded of this when he picked up a copy of Time magazine last week. A couple of hotshot reporters came to the conclusion that Indian casinos generate huge profits, little of which betters the lives of most Native Americans, while a passel of palefaces are getting rich (www.time.com/time/covers/1101021216/).

There's no specific mention of the nine Oregon tribes, nor of the eight casinos that operate within state borders, nor of the large amounts of cash that are generated there.

Oregon's largest casino is Spirit Mountain, located southwest of Portland and operated by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. A tribal spokesman says the 1,500 slot machines, 28 blackjack tables, 17 poker tables, pai gow, craps, roulette, bingo and keno gross $150 million a year and nets $75 million.

Now the Nose is no financial whiz, but he can't think of another industry that generates profits of 50 cents on the dollar. Not Intel, not Nike, not even this city's daily newspaper.

And here's the rub. Casinos run by Indian tribes pay no taxes--federal or state. Sovereign nations, and all that stuff.

But in Oregon, the Indians still need the white man's help, and the Nose isn't simply talking about the buses of blue-hairs who shove quarters into one-armed bandits.

Just ask Governor-elect Ted Kulongoski, who will be pressured next year to let the Warm Springs Indians build a casino at Cascade Locks. Normally, tribes don't need a governor's blessing to build a casino. But because this location is not on reservation land (but is close to hundreds of thousands of gamblers), approval from Governor Ted is required.

A lot of people have a stake in Teddy's eventual decision--many of whom have less Indian blood than Trent Lott. Like Oregon's biggest law firm, Stoel, Rives, Boley, Fraser and Wyse, which does work for the Grand Ronde, a tribe that doesn't want another casino built to compete with theirs. Or Dave Barrows, the longtime Salem lobbyist hired by Grand Ronde to do its bidding. Grand Ronde also signed on Grove-Quirk Insight and B.S. Ltd., the white-owned polling firm and public-relations agency that also did work for Kulongoski's campaign.

Then there's Len Bergstein, perhaps the state's premier political fixer. Friend to governors and mayors alike, Bergstein works for very powerful people (including the Rev. Dr. Bob Pamplin) and for many years was on the payroll of the Grand Ronde Indians as its chief political strategist, helping block Warm Springs from getting approval for a casino at Cascade Locks.

Late last year, Grand Ronde dismissed Bergstein. This year, he showed up on the payroll of the Warm Springs Indians and is now trying to determine how to get the casino at Cascade Locks approved.

None of this would bother to the Nose, except for this: Over the past 10 years, the pockets of financiers, lawyers and lobbyists have been lined with the dollars of the poor schmucks who imagine they are James Bond stepping up to a craps table. But what happened to the supposed beneficiaries of this booming industry?

According to the 2000 census, 22 percent of Oregon's more than 35,000 Native Americans live below the poverty rate--twice the rate of other Oregonians.

Which prompts the question: Who's getting the shaft, Kemo Sabe?

 
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