There is no compelling reason for Oregonians to oppose nontribal casinos. Gambling is a form of recreation and is not, by itself, harmful to either the gambler or other individuals. Therefore, the appropriate role for the state is to allow open entry into the gambling market so that consumers can decide for themselves which businesses to patronize.
It's always tempting, of course, to restrict business sectors that we personally disapprove of. For some people strip clubs are the hot button, while others are obsessed with tobacco shops or payday lenders. But we should try and learn from the failure of Prohibition: When consumer demand for any commodity is constant, restricting supply of that commodity through regulation will cause more problems than it solves.
Prohibition of alcohol sales in the 1920s resulted in rampant police corruption and gang violence; limiting Oregon casinos to remote rural locations increases long-distance driving, fuel consumption and air pollution. These are the unintended consequences of regulation.
While some people may think the state has a duty to discourage so-called 'sinful' activities, that's neither appropriate nor possible. It's not appropriate because we all have a right to make our own decisions in these matters, and it's not possible because Oregon actually encourages gambling, drinking and smoking through the operation of the state lottery and taxation of tobacco and alcohol sales.
Over the past decade, state legislators have steadily increased their reliance on sin tax revenue to support general operations, so they're hardly in a position to be preaching about morality.
Casino gambling is here to stay. Allowing tribal nations to operate a de facto gambling cartel in Oregon simply increases their profits while restricting the choices of casino customers. The state should level the playing field and treat casinos as just another legal enterprise.
John A. Charles Jr. is president and chief executive officer of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland think tank. He lives near Sandy.