Editorial: Casinos haven't lifted tribes in Oregon out of poverty

"The U.S. Census shows Native American poverty rates in Oregon skyrocketing in recent years, from 22 percent in 1999 to 31 percent from 2006 to 2008, the most recent years for which data is available. There are some differences in the way those numbers were calculated, but they leave little doubt of a worsening trend.

On their reservation on the eastern slopes of the Coast Range, the Grand Ronde run the sprawling Spirit Mountain Casino. A 90-minute drive from downtown Portland, the casino is Oregon’s largest and most successful tribal gambling enterprise. In the 15 years since it opened, Spirit Mountain has netted more than $833 million in profits for the 5,228 members of the Grand Ronde tribes.

That works out to about $150,000 per person, even after the tribe’s generous donations to Oregon noprofits. And the vast majority of that money is dumped into social services for the tribe.

With the resulting benefits, you’d be forgiven for wishing you were a Grand Ronde member today.

The tribe covers tuition at any college or trade school in the nation, including grad school. Cradle-to-grave health care is paid for all members, no matter where they live. There’s affordable housing on the reservation. And each member receives cash payments of about $4,000 in the mail each year, courtesy of the casino.

One could argue those benefits have made the Grand Ronde in some ways Oregon’s most privileged class of people. Yet statistics show those hundreds of millions in casino money have yet to lift the majority of Oregon’s Native Americans out of their economic rut. The Grand Ronde, even with Oregon’s most lucrative casino, are no exception. "

Get the Story:
Edtiorial: The Longest Odds (The Willamette Week 11/17)