In Our View: Casino Lacks Justification

Despite tentative pact between Cowlitz, state, plan's negatives outweigh benefits

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Despite a tentative new agreement that spells out details for a proposed Cowlitz tribal casino in Clark County, the justification for such a facility continues to ring hollow.

The Cowlitz Tribe plans to take approximately 152 acres west of La Center into trust for the purpose of building the casino. Never mind that the tribal headquarters are in Longview in Cowlitz County, that a tribal housing center is farther north in Toledo in Lewis County, or that numerous historical documents describe tribal homelands as being north of Clark County. Tribal officials are eager to establish a gaming center as close to the Portland-Vancouver market as possible, regardless of what their own history tells them.

Those aspects of the debate, which has been going on for more than a decade, remain in limbo while awaiting arguments in front of a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. A year ago, Judge Barbara J. Rothstein rightly tossed a monkey wrench into the tribe’s plans by throwing out a 2010 Record of Decision that recognized the tribe’s right to establish a reservation on the site near La Center.

But the legal stop sign didn’t prevent the tribe and the state gambling commission from establishing the recent compact. Among the details: The tribe could build two casinos, one with as many as 75 gaming tables and the other with as many as 50 tables; there could be a total of 3,000 “tribal lottery player stations” — essentially slot machines;

2 percent of gross gaming revenues would go toward community mitigation to pay for items such as local law enforcement and emergency services; and .13 of 1 percent of gross gaming revenues would be donated to programs that help addicts stop smoking and quit gambling.

It is these last caveats that are most telling. As The Columbian long has argued editorially, the question for local residents isn’t about expanding entertainment opportunities in the region or appeasing a tribe that professes to have ties to Clark County. Instead, the crux of the issue revolves around the quality of life in the region and what is best for local residents and their communities. The net negative impact on public education resources, local law enforcement, social services, and infrastructure would far outweigh the benefits provided by jobs at the casino.

Organized gambling has moved in recent decades from social stigma to social policy, and society is all the worse for it. The same can be applied to state-sponsored lotteries, which have come to be viewed as crucial fundraising arms for government, but the issue before us at this time is a proposed megacasino in Clark County — and there is no reasonable argument that can be made in support of the facility.

The fact that Clark County and the city of Vancouver are among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit before the U.S. District Court drives this point home. Those plaintiffs have no dog in the fight other than an interest in providing the best possible communities for residents, and it is clear that a large casino would act against that interest.

Cowlitz Chairman William Iyall said he anticipates a federal decision within a year, and acknowledges that appeals will follow. He said it will be at least two years before the tribe could have a casino built and opened, meaning that the issue is far from settled. The fight has been long and frustrating for both sides, and yet it must continue. Because regardless of how many tables or “tribal lottery player stations” the state gaming commission deems appropriate, for the good of the county the proper number is zero.