U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have opposed the Coquille Indian Tribe's proposal to build a casino in Medford.
In an Oct. 21 letter written to Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs with the U.S. Department of the Interior, the two Democratic senators from Oregon said they agree with the opposition already voiced by Gov. John Kitzhaber, the Jackson County commissioners and the city of Medford.
The Coquille tribe has proposed a casino at the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley, which is still operating, and at the former Kim's Restaurant on South Pacific Highway in south Medford. The tribe also has agreed to lease the nearby Bear Creek Golf Course.
The Coquille tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the 2.42-acre property, excluding the golf course, in a government trust.
In addition, the Coquilles have asked the federal Office of Indian Gaming Management for an exception to a prohibition on gaming on lands acquired after October 1988.
Wyden and Merkley say the type of video gambling that would be offered at the proposed Medford facility is comparable to the gambling offered at other casinos throughout the state that have existed under a so-called one-tribe, one-casino agreement.
"In Oregon, we have a long history of striking a balance between the pursuit of gaming revenues, which benefits tribal members enormously, and the risks associated with a significant increase in the number of gaming facilities, which would have negative consequences on many of our communities," the senators wrote.
The tribes in Oregon all have Class III casinos, which allow craps, roulette, blackjack, other table games and video gaming.
The Coquille tribe has proposed a Class II gaming facility, which is limited to video gambling. However, there is a small difference in the video machines between a Class II and III facility, the senators said.
"We are concerned that what the Coquille tribe is proposing would in reality turn out to be more akin to what is contemplated when establishing a Class III facility in Oregon, rather than a Class II facility," the senators wrote.
Brenda Meade, chairwoman for the Coquille Tribal Council, said, "It is interesting that so many people have so much to say about our project but none of them has talked to us about it."
She said the Coquille never agreed to the one-casino-per-tribe policy.
"Time and time again that policy has been proven wrong," Meade said.
The Coquille tribe is using the tools that Congress gave every tribe in the country to improve the health and safety of its members, she said.
"This is a way to fix some of the wrongs suffered by our people," Meade said.
Instead of fighting the Coquille tribe, she said the state and other officials should work to change the laws regarding where tribes can place gaming facilities.
The Coquille tribe has proposed a modest gaming facility in Medford that will help bring jobs to the local community, she said.
"I think the casino is going to be a good asset for that community, like The Mill is for Coos County," Meade said.
Kitzhaber has a "massive gambling interest" in preventing more casinos because they could potentially take dollars away from the state-run Lottery, she said.
The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians has opposed the Coquille's expansion efforts, saying it would be a threat to the economic vitality of Seven Feathers, the tribe's casino in Canyonville.
Wayne Shammel, general counsel for the Cow Creek, stated in a prepared response that the Coquille tribe is attempting to jump on a wave of reservation and gaming expansion that has succeeded in other areas of the country.
"The letter from senators Wyden and Merkley add to the voices of opposition speaking against the wave of gaming crashing into Medford," Shammel stated.
The Cow Creek tribe, which opened an office in downtown Medford, has paid $300 a month for a billboard on Bullock Road north of town that opposes the Coquille's proposal. The sign proclaims, "No Reservation Shopping." Reservation shopping refers to Indian tribes looking to build casinos farther and farther away from aboriginal lands.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.