Measure 75: No

It hasn't received much attention in this part of the state, but all Oregon residents will weigh in on a proposed casino in the Portland area when they cast their ballots in the Nov. 2 general election. For a number of reasons, we think the safest bet is to vote no.

As written, Ballot Measure 75 would allow a single non-tribal casino on a specified piece of property in Wood Village — the Multnomah County Kennel Club, a former dog-racing establishment. In effect, that means only the measure's chief petitioners — two Portland-area developers who have lined up investors — would be allowed to build and operate a casino.

The petitioners, Bruce Studer and Matthew Rossman, argue their casino would be a good thing for Oregon, creating thousands of jobs constructing and operating it. In addition, the measure specifies the casino would pay 25 percent of its gross gambling revenues to the state. Half of that estimated $147 million annually would go to Oregon public schools, 30 percent to Oregon counties and smaller shares to Wood Village and surrounding cities, the Oregon State Police and the Problem Gambling Treatment Fund. All that is in addition to taxes that would be generated by the casino and its employees.

Sounds great — but state financial analysts say Oregon Lottery retailers in the area of the new casino would lose money as a result. The casino's payments to schools would amount to no more than 2 percent of state spending on education. And lottery proceeds that go to schools could be reduced if lottery proceeds decline.

Beyond the financial considerations, there is a huge legal question hanging over this measure. The Oregon Constitution says specifically that "The Legislative Assembly has no power to authorize, and shall prohibit, casinos from operation in the State of Oregon" (emphasis ours).

Studer and Rossman attempted to qualify a second measure for the ballot that would have amended the Constitution to allow their casino. It failed to get enough signatures.

No problem, the petitioners say now. Their attorney, former legislative counsel Greg Chaimov, says the Legislature may not allow a casino, but the voters can. Chaimov points to other language in the Constitution giving the people the right to enact laws independent of the Legislature. Other lawyers, surprisingly enough, disagree.

Then there's the little matter of Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon Constitution, which says, "No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens."

Measure 75 clearly grants Studer and Rossman, and no one else, the privilege to operate a commercial, non-tribal casino in Oregon. If the measure passes, odds are good that opponents of the casino — and they are numerous — will immediately sue to stop it.

We won't presume to predict how the courts might decide these questions, but we'd wager a large sum that it will keep a great many lawyers busy for a long time — some of them at taxpayer expense.

Oregon has a successful state lottery and several bustling Indian casinos. Allowing even more gambling might or might not be a good thing for the state. But handing a monopoly to one casino is the wrong way to go about it.

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