News of a proposed casino in Medford had some area residents jumping for joy Friday, while others worried that it would create an unsavory atmosphere.
"When I saw the paper this morning, I rejoiced — finally, finally," said Lee Wenzel.
The 72-year-old Medford resident was playing video lottery games at Lumpy's on Riverside Avenue Friday morning. If the casino opened, he'd probably spend most of his time there, he said.
"I would never come here again," Wenzel said, noting a casino similar to the one in North Bend would offer a greater variety of games that would keep him amused and would be a boost to the local economy.
"It's entertainment for me," he said. "I'm retired. I don't care."
Wenzel still thought there would be a place for Lumpy's and other smaller gambling outlets for those who wanted to spend less. He said he typically shells out $10 a visit at Lumpy's, compared with $300 at the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville.
The Coquille Indian Tribe has acquired Roxy Ann Lanes and the former Kim's Restaurant in hopes of opening a Medford casino along South Pacific Highway. The tribe also has agreed to lease Bear Creek Golf Course, next to the two buildings.
Chief Kenneth Tanner has said the Coquilles, who are based in North Bend where they operate The Mill Casino, are preparing to put the property into a U.S. government-held trust that would start a process that could lead to reservation status.
Under the federal restoration act of 1989, the Coquille tribal service area includes Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson and Lane counties. Most of the 1,000 members of the tribe live in Coos County, but Jackson County has the next-largest concentration with about 100 members.
Karlene Allred, manager of the Lumpy's, said she wasn't happy to hear that Wenzel, one of her favorite customers, was talking about jumping ship.
"I'm hoping it doesn't affect our business in a bad way," she said.
She said she was concerned about the possible impact on smaller operations if a large casino moved in.
"The heavy betters would go over there," she said.
Still, Allred said, the casino could bring in badly needed jobs to Medford.
Karen Kurtz, chef of Zach's Deli & Catering Co. on Center Drive, said she worries the casino would give Medford a bad reputation.
"It'll probably get built, though," she said. "Everything happens on the sly in this town."
She said she worries the casino will encourage more people to blow their paychecks gambling.
Despite her fears, Kurtz said she realizes many people would rather go to a casino in Medford than head up to Seven Feathers.
"My mom and dad are going to love it," she said.
Bonnie Monnin, a 62-year-old Ashland resident, was reading the morning paper at Bad Ass Coffee on Riverside Avenue with her friend Jim Olsen, a 59-year-old Talent resident. They had opposite views of the casino.
"Whatever the Native Americans want to do to make money is OK with me," Monnin said. "It'll bring money to this town."
However, she didn't think a casino would be good fit in Ashland, which already has a lot of tourists.
Olsen said, "Personally, I could live without it. I guess I'm not in favor of it. When is enough casinos enough?"
Inside Bad Ass, Marie St. Clair was taking her chances on the video lottery machines, saying she supports the idea of a casino.
"I have nothing against it," the 58-year-old Medford woman said. "I'm part Indian — Cherokee. Things are not doing so well around here, so a casino would help."
St. Clair said she likes video lottery but usually doesn't win a lot.
"My husband would rather I didn't," she said.
Kyndra Irigoyen, barista with Bad Ass, said the casino would bring more tourism dollars into the valley.
"It would create a lot of jobs," she said. "It's not the kind of job I'd want."
Medford officials still are trying to get their arms around what the proposal would mean for the city.
"We obviously didn't know about it," Councilman Bob Strosser said. "It is somewhat of an unknown to us."
He said the fact the tribe is interested in locating a casino in Medford is some evidence that it's a community that's attractive to business.
Strosser said he hasn't formulated an opinion about whether a casino is a good fit for Medford, saying he has too many questions about the project.
"I have some of my own apprehensions," he said. "But I'll take a wait-and-see attitude."
Strosser said he's more familiar with the tribe that owns Seven Feathers in Canyonville and the role that tribe plays in fostering good will in the community.
Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler said he had no inkling of the casino plans before being contacted late this week by tribal leaders.
"We had a briefing the day before it came out in the paper at the request of the tribal council," Wheeler said. "After that, we knew who it was and what they were looking at, but that's as far as it goes."
Wheeler said he did not have enough information yet to form a personal opinion on the idea.
"I have no idea even what the public opinion will be," he said.
Wheeler said he also was uncertain about the city's level of authority in such areas as zoning for a casino located on reservation or federal land.
"We'll have to run this by legal council and see," he said.
State Rep. Sal Esquivel, a Medford Republican, said he has mixed emotions about a casino in Medford.
He said it's difficult to believe that a tribe can claim a patch of ground in Medford and call it part of its reservation.
"It's a stretch of the imagination that a casino is a reservation," he said. "It's a long way from their reservation."
Esquivel said it runs counter to his way of thinking that an American Indian tribe is allowed to run a casino, but a private corporation or individual is not.
"Do it like in Nevada and allow everyone to put in a casino," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.