Basic fairness It matters, even about casinos

Oregon’s Warm Springs tribes have spent years and millions of dollars dutifully following federal Indian gaming law in their effort to build a tribal casino in the Columbia River Gorge. It would be deeply unfair now to include the Warm Springs, and a handful of other tribes with long-running casino plans, in a proposed ban on off-reservation casinos.

This week the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will take up a proposal by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to rewrite the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. McCain’s bill includes a ban on off-reservation casinos; so does a similar bill proposed in the House by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif.

McCain and Pombo are right to pursue major changes in the 1988 law, including a ban on off-reservation casinos. The proliferation of tribal casinos, now annually a $19 billion industry, clearly needs to be reined in. But McCain’s legislation must allow a handful of long-standing off-reservation casino proposals, including the Warm Springs’, to be considered under existing rules.

We have supported the Warm Springs’ plan to build a casino in an industrial park in Cascade Locks not because we are eager to see another casino in this state or in the gorge, but because the tribes could build a casino in a more damaging place in the gorge, on a hillside near Hood River.

But the overriding issue raised by McCain’s bill is not whether Oregon and the rest of the nation have enough or too many tribal casinos. It’s not whether a casino belongs in the gorge, either at Cascade Locks or Hood River.

The issue here is basic fairness. The Warm Springs tribal government, which does not have money to burn, has spent millions of dollars complying with every demand of federal and state governments.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has submitted a letter to the Senate committee seeking an exemption for the Warm Springs’ proposal. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican whose district includes the gorge, also believes the Warm Springs should be exempted from the ban. We urge Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, to take a similar stance this week.

It is only fair that they have that chance.

The Oregonian, Portland