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Local residents give casino plan a new try

Two Lake Oswego residents are taking another shot at putting a vote for a proposed commercial casino in Wood Village before Oregon citizens.

Investment adviser Bruce Studer and lawyer Matt Rossman filed three proposed initiative petitions with Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's office Nov. 21. If approved, and the initiatives gather enough signatures, they will appear on the November 2008 ballot.

Proposed initiatives 140, 141 and 142 would alter Oregon's constitution to allow a single commercial casino, approve the facility and allow 25 percent of its 'adjusted gross revenues' - or about $200 million - to go toward state public education, children's health-care funds and city and county coffers.

If voters approved the measures, Studer and Rossman promise a 175,000-square-foot resort casino with a hotel, restaurants, theater and other amenities at the former Multnomah Kennel Club at 223rd Ave. in Wood Village near Gresham.

Proposed by Studer and Rossman's pro-casino agency Oregon Gaming and Entertainment, it would be bigger than the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and would create 3,000 jobs.

The promoters attempted to push similar initiatives through in time for the 2006 election, but withdrew the measures after they decided they didn't have enough time to gather the required signatures.

To get an initiative on the ballot to change state law requires 6 percent of the 2006 total vote for governor, or 82,769 signatures, by early July. To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot requires 8 percent, or 110,358 signatures.

'Getting the signatures won't be a problem,' Studer said. 'We'll have plenty of time to get them.'

The secretary of state's office has to approve the petitions before signatures can be gathered.

Studer and Rossman have not publicly disclosed the project's financial backers but said they will unveil them in mid-January, along with the center's design.

'Everyone will be extremely pleased and excited about who they are and how they operate,' Studer said of the investors.

Studer believes the additional two years worked in favor of the campaign. He touted the project as an economic boon to the entire state.

'What drives me in this deal is the tremendous benefit the state gets,' he said. 'We need to take advantage of that. It's huge and can pay for a lot of necessary services.'

In an earlier interview, Studer cautioned that a casino planned by the Cowlitz Tribe in La Center, Wash., could draw the money out of Oregon if voters don't approve a casino in the Metro area.

The proposal has faced an uphill battle in east Multnomah County, where officials there have worried about its impacts on infrastructure and public safety.

Those concerns will be alleviated once the plans are brought to the public, Studer said.

'We're finding we're picking up a lot of momentum and support the more people know and understand,' he said.

When contacted at his home, Wood Village Mayor Dave Fuller said he had not heard of the promoters' latest filings, but continues to support the project.

'I have been in favor of listening as this develops to see if it's something to benefit not only our city but the area as a whole,' he said, noting that Wood Village voters would have the final vote to approve the casino. 'It would help our city as far as the tax structure is concerned.

'First (voters) will have to pass ballot measures,' he added. '(The promoters) have a definite uphill climb.'

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, was responsible for legislation that guarantees that a majority of Wood Village citizens would have to vote and approve the casino if state voters OK it. If not, the casino could not move forward.

'It's up to the promoters of the idea to convince city voters if this is what they want,' Fuller said.

One of the newly introduced initiatives calls for 2 percent of the one-fourth adjusted gross revenues to go to adjoining city coffers. That's not enough of an incentive to change Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby's adamant stances against the project.

'How are you going to improve our quality of life with Las Vegas next door?' Weatherby asked, citing traffic and law enforcement among his many concerns. 'It's gonna create its own weather, traffic-wise. They're not going to be able to predict how that's going to go.

'I'm very concerned,' he said. 'I'm not anti-gambling, but I predict there's going to be a lot of citizens against it for various reasons.'

As of Tuesday night, Gresham Mayor Shane T. Bemis had not heard of the latest moves in the long-running casino saga, but stood by his opposition.

'I've stated all along that I'm not in support of a casino sited there' in Wood Village, Bemis said. 'I think there are places that you go to gamble, and we don't need to be one of those places.'

Oregon has nine casinos, all operated by or for Indian tribes. The tribes - which include Coquille, Siletz, Grande Ronde and Klamath - have fought the ballot measures through every bureaucratic step.

They exhausted their last appeal option with the Supreme Court last year. At least two of those tribes have made plays for off-reservation casinos and failed.

Review staff reporter Cori Bolger, Gresham Outlook staff reporter Shannon Wells and former Review staff reporter Lee van der Voo contributed to this story.