Gambling on Changing the Subject

Promoters of a $300 million private casino are running TV ads that talk about everything except gambling.Promoters of a "gaming getaway" in Wood Village have launched their TV campaign with ads that make the facility seem like a giant theme park instead of a gambling hall.

Called The Grange (more on that in a minute), the facility would include a 4-star hotel, fine eateries, rooftop bar, movie theater, bowling alley and a family-friendly water park. But at the core of this "new Oregon destination" is a casino.

If it was just a destination with an outdoor plaza, performance venue and farmers' market, there would be no need for a pair of ballot measures to modify the Oregon Constitution to permit a private casino subject to a statewide vote and specifically approve a casino in Wood Village. But Measures 82 and 83 are definitely on the November ballot.

You could speculate the ads omit mention of gambling because polling shows that is a losing argument. However, the only way these measures survive is if Oregon voters like the idea of having more gambling in more places and operated by more than Indian tribes. The emphasis on a cool destination may have more to do with combating push-back from hundreds of taverns and small businesses that rely on state-sponsored video lottery to attract customers.

Of course, the people who drive RVs or ride in buses to Indian casinos or go short distances to the nearest video lottery machine may not be the demographic targeted by The Grange. The TV ads suggest it wants to lure more affluent customers who can gamble in between a steaming latte and a fancy dinner, while the kids splash in a pool or take in a movie. 

Whatever you think about gambling or this proposed casino, you have to admit it's a game try at deflecting the conversation to something positive — turning an eyesore into an attraction, a $300 million LEED-certified construction project, more tax revenue and a convenient new place to go. This could be a smart ploy in helping to define The Grange in positive terms before opponents take their turn in defining it as an unwanted expansion of gambling that will hurt rural communities with existing casinos and hundreds of small businesses statewide that are dependent on video lottery.

The Grange promoters are trying to convert other parts of the business community into supporters by actively seeking vendors and business partners. Its website asks people to voice their preference of microbrews to be served at this "uniquely Oregon entertainment" center.

In the good news/bad news department, The Grange got media coverage when the actual Grange complained about the use of its name for the proposed casino. This probably won't turn out to be as big of a deal as Apple's lawsuit against Samsung over smartphone design, but it could present yet another bump in the road.

Clearly the biggest bump in the road is a previous election when Oregon voters soundly defeated similar proposals. Oregonians have a habit of disliking being asked a second time to vote on the same issue — check the record on assisted suicide and sales tax measures.

Yet another reason to focus on New, Cool Destination rather than Gambling Closer to Home.