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September 21st, 2005 12:00 am NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories

Who's Who In The Battle Of The Gorge Casino

Your guide to the players-and who's paying them-in Oregon's fight over off-the-rez gambling.

Cascade Locks Mayor Ralph Hesgard
To put it mildly, the politics around what would be Oregon's first off-reservation casino are confusing.

For instance, Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who in April green-lighted the proposed 500,000-square-foot Warm Springs tribal casino in the Columbia River Gorge, was an outspoken critic of expanded gambling when he was Oregon's attorney general. And his OK for a casino in Cascade Locks-a 40-minute drive from Portland-reverses the long-held, no-off-reservation-casinos policy of his predecessor, Gov. John Kitzhaber. Kulongoski cut a good deal for the state-up to 17 percent of the net could go to public purposes-but critics fear an explosion of Indian casinos.

With the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs conducting hearings and taking public comment until Sept. 30 on the Warm Springs proposal, opponents of Kulongoski's decision also defy easy categorization.

The most active foe is the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, whose casino west of Salem would lose its lucrative spot as the Oregon gambling hall closest to Portland (about a 90-minute drive).

Joining the Grand Ronde are groups such as limousine liberals in the Friends of Columbia Gorge; Salem's most powerful pro-gambling lobby, the Oregon Restaurant Association; and the Oregon Family Council.

In recent weeks, Dan Lavey, the Republican political consultant running the Grand Ronde's opposition campaign, has bought time on both Air America and Christian radio in addition to mainstream print and TV.

"There are a lot of people who usually have nothing in common who oppose this casino," Lavey says.

Lobbyist Len Bergstein, who is guiding the Warm Springs tribes through the federal approval process scheduled to finish next summer, disagrees.

The Grand Ronde and the restaurant association, whose members get hundreds of millions in lottery proceeds, just fear competition, Bergstein says. Other than Friends of the Gorge, he notes, mainstream enviro groups are neutral, and labor is a big supporter of the project. "It's a coalition based on greed, and a thin one at that," Bergstein says.

We told you it was confusing. Here's a guide to help sort through all the players in the months ahead.

Gov. Ted KulongoskiProtect Oregon's newest growth industry, and Hood River.Wrote op-ed "When Gambling Calls the Shots" for New York Times, October 1996
Len BergsteinWarm Springs $$$Worked previously for Grand Ronde for six years
AFL-CIO's Tim Nesbitt400 construction jobs and 1,000 casino jobsDeal gives unions opportunity to organize casino workers
Cascade Locks Mayor Ralph HesgardLocal economyCascade Locks, pop. 1,150, is Oregon's 143rd-largest city
Dan LaveyGrand Ronde $$$Worked for Warm Springs in 2002
Mike McCallum Oregon Rest. Assn.Casino would hurt Portland-area lottery takeORA, which donates primarily to Repubs, gets revenge for lottery-commission cuts
Rep. David Wu, D-Ore.Establish enviro credWrote U.S. Interior Secretary and introduced legislation to kill casino
Oregon Family CouncilFamily-values home-schoolers also oppose gamblingResponsible for anti-gay-marriage Measure 36
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