MISSION, Ore. - Beer and fighting can mix.
The Wildhorse Resort & Casino, which only recently started serving alcohol, hosted the "Clash at the Casino" Saturday night. A well-behaved crowd of about 1,000 turned out for the beer and a program of competitive mixed-martial arts fighting.
Despite the presence of alcohol, all of the punching and kicking was restricted to the ring - though a few fans were asked to leave after using too much foul language toward the end of the event.
The Umatilla Indian Reservation's governing board of trustees voted last year to allow alcohol consumption at the casino. The board acted out of concern that the dry casino was losing business to bars and taverns that feature video poker slot machines from the Oregon State Lottery.
A proposed casino in the Columbia River Gorge would bring even stiffer competition.
Charles Denight, public relations manager for Wildhorse, said the recently initiated practice of serving alcohol is all about providing customer service, and levels the playing field with local bars.
"If you don't have the drinking part, they won't come," he said. "We think this adds a lot to the patrons' enjoyment." Denight said Wildhorse wanted to draw the under-35 crowd, a demographic that likes beer and was in abundance Saturday night. Cassie Gordon of Pendleton, who attended the show, said having alcohol available was "definitely a perk."
Denight said Wildhorse servers and many managers - including himself - went through alcohol server training required by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Managers went through the training in order to provide support for servers, he said. Denight said Wildhorse plans on having wine tastings of regional wines, some of which are served in the restaurant. Some places, however, will remain off-limits for alcohol, such as Tamastslikt Cultural Institute.
The casino opened in 1994 and has become one of Umatilla County's biggest employers.
Three percent of the casino revenue goes to local nonprofit agencies, schools, libraries, cultural and environmental groups through the Wildhorse Foundation under an agreement with the state.