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Private casinos a bad bet for all

What appears to be a final, furious effort to place a private-casino measure on the November 2006 ballot actually may be the opening round for a 2008 election battle over gambling in Oregon.

We doubt that sponsors of the casino initiatives will make the ballot this year, but surely they will be back in 2008 Ñ especially considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars they've already spent.

And that means Oregon leaders ought to start paying close attention to the threat that a nontribal casino in the Portland area would pose to state lottery revenues.

Lake Oswego residents Matthew Rossman and Bruce Studer propose to build one of the nation's largest casinos on the site of the former Multnomah Greyhound Park in Wood Village. After months of trying to draft initiatives capable of clearing an initial review by Oregon's secretary of state, the pair finally received approval this week for their latest proposed measures.

Rossman and Studer vow that they will spend what it takes to collect the 100,840 signatures they need from registered voters before the July 7 deadline for the November 2006 ballot. But no matter how big their pile of chips, the casino sponsors are holding the equivalent of a pair of eights Ñ which doesn't mean they can't win, but everything must break their way.

Ultimate goal might be 2008

The calendar and Oregon initiative history are working decidedly in Rossman and Studer's disfavor. The slate of proposed initiatives that gained the secretary of state's approval this week still faces challenges before the Oregon Supreme Court. That process takes time.

The best-case scenario would put Rossman and Studer on the streets collecting signatures no sooner than early June. With that starting point, the only way they can make the ballot is to break the petition-drive record of five weeks set in 2004 by sponsors of the anti-gay-marriage initiative.

Rossman and Studer may think they have a great idea, but our guess is Oregonians won't feel the same passion about this issue. The initiative sponsors probably understand their chances are slim. So they must be looking to lay the groundwork for 2008 with proposed measures that already have been vetted through the legal process.

That gives Oregon's governor and legislative leaders two years to respond by discussing whether this state wants to open the door at all to nontribal casinos. We continue to believe that any expansion of gambling in Oregon will increase our collective addiction. However, if citizens demonstrate a stronger-than-expected interest in a nontribal casino, there is a better way to accomplish that end than through the measures proposed by Rossman and Studer.

State could do it and keep money

Gov. Ted Kulongoski touched on this very issue when he recently met with our editorial board. Why, the governor asked, would he allow Rossman and Studer to build the one and only nontribal casino in Oregon when the state could build such a casino itself and keep 100 percent of the revenues Ñ rather than the 25 percent that Rossman and Studer propose?

For the record, the governor isn't advancing a constitutional amendment for a state-run casino. But certainly, if citizens want a nontribal casino, wouldn't they prefer that all the proceeds go to support state services?

We'd like to think Oregon has its fill of gambling outlets. But if we're wrong about that, the state's leaders have an obligation to head off a poor proposal in favor of one that has more than marginal benefits for Oregonians.