Woodland casino revenues fall short

Council members say estimates were too high

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Prior to the Oak Tree Casino's opening five months ago, Woodland council members cautioned the city administration against using its revenues to pay for recurring city expenses such as contracting out the city's fire department services. The council's stance looks prescient now.

The Oak Tree is on pace to provide the city half the $200,000 in tax revenues casino officials projected for 2012, Woodland city officials said this week.

Meanwhile, La Center's four cardrooms generated a higher combined gross income in 2012's first three months ($8.1 million) than they did during last year's first three months ($7.7 million), according to La Center city officials. The cardrooms paid more in taxes in 2012's first quarter ($810,864) than during the same period last year ($797,423).

The Oak Tree's downgraded figures are not as big of a disappointment as they might appear, council members said, because they believed the original estimates were too high.

The first quarter numbers are too small a sample size to make

long-term prognostications about the business' health, Woodland Mayor Grover Laseke said. Others, such as former Mayor Chuck Blum and councilman Marshall Allen, pointed to the numbers as proof the city does not want gambling.

"The issue at hand is, the economy is not real good." Laseke said. "Starting a new operation takes a little longer to come around and be successful. Will (Oak Tree) be successful? I don't know."

Laseke noted he had not spoken to any casino officials recently.

Hard numbers for the Oak Tree's first three months were not available for this story. Woodland City Clerk Mari Ripp was out of town and did not return phone calls. Oak Tree general manager Chuck McCormick also did not return phone calls. The Washington State Gambling Commission has not yet released numbers for 2012.

Before the Oak Tree opened Dec. 18, officials there were already talking about the potential of opening a second casino on the old Parr Lumber site behind the casino's location off Interstate 5. It is unclear whether this plan is active or has been placed on hold due to the first-quarter numbers.

Woodland has not received any applications for a new casino from Oak Tree officials or other business officials, community development planner Carolyn Johnson said.

Woodland has budgeted the casino tax revenue for two police vehicles and a vehicle for the fire chief, all one-time purchases, city officials said. Each of the vehicles they are replacing had more than 100,000 miles on them, city officials said.

The council and Blum clashed over whether to use the money for recurring expenses, councilman Benjamin Fredricks said.

Blum said that is not the case. He opposed casinos coming to Woodland, in general, but supported using the money toward one-time purchases, after the council passed ordinances paving the way for gambling enterprises in the city.

"Actually, what I proposed was a couple of police cars with that money," Blum said, noting the city had sought a grant to pay for a new police officer.

Fredricks disputed Blum's recollections.

"If we had approved his budget, we would be in a world of hurt this year," Fredricks said.

Both Blum and Allen oppose gambling in Woodland. Allen plans to circulate a gambling petition in 2013, in hopes of putting casinos to a citywide vote. He is not shy about expressing his feelings about the Oak Tree.

"I hope they go out of business," he said.

Should that happen, logic would say the four La Center cardrooms would benefit from one less competitor. The Oak Tree's impact, thus far, "hasn't been significant" on the La Center cardrooms, said John Bockmier, a Vancouver-based consultant who represents the businesses.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/#!/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.