A new casino built on a hill outside Yreka, California, hopes to draw Medford-area gamblers when it opens toward the end of February.
Rain Rock Casino's cavernous building has generated a lot of buzz in Yreka, which struggles with high unemployment.
"I think in a roundabout way it will make things better," said Kathy Kimbell, a 61-year-old local resident. "With a lot of unemployment, the whole area could use it."
Kimbell said she will try her luck at the new casino, but quickly noted she will often venture north to Seven Feathers in Canyonville. From Medford, Rain Rock, at 777 Sharps Road, is about 10 miles closer than Canyonville.
A tentative opening date has been scheduled for Feb. 28, but could be pushed back if there are construction delays. Tribal members will have their own opening two days before.
The Karuk Tribe has invested $5 million over 20 years to see the project to fruition and taken out a $35 million loan to pay for construction of the 36,000-square-foot building, which also includes back-office and kitchen areas.
When the Karuk began earnestly seeking approval for the casino, the tribe was met with skepticism and opposition by Siskiyou County.
The tribe has overcome many hurdles, including obtaining ratification of its gaming compact by the California State Legislature as well as agreements with the city of Yreka, Siskiyou County and the California Department of Transportation.
To build the casino, workers scraped off 200,000 cubic yards of dirt to create a flat area for the casino and parking lot.
On the massive gaming floor, there will be 349 video slot machines and eight card tables. Behind a bar area on the northwest side, there will be a small stage. There will be sections for smoking and nonsmoking. A large restaurant and an adjacent fast-food restaurant will seat about 100 people.
The casino itself sits on 100 acres of Karuk land, and plans already are in the works to expand the casino in about three years. A gaming area to the north will connect to the existing building, adding an extra 20,000 square feet. To the south, an 80-room hotel will be built.
To help patrol the casino, the tribe has agreed to buy one new squad car for local police every four years and to pay the salary of one officer, which is about $90,000 annually.
Casino General Manager Mike Rose said the Karuks will attempt to pay off their loan in about five years.
"They will be taking 100 percent of the proceeds to pay down debt," he said.
Jobs were on a lot of locals' minds, and the casino held a job fair recently and received more than 800 applications for 200 jobs.
"We had a pretty strong showing from the Medford-Ashland area," said Brandon Bethea, marketing manager for the casino. He estimated about 5 percent of the applicants were from just over the border, and others applied from as far away as Minnesota.
But most of the applicants were from the Yreka-Montague area, including about 50 tribal members. The average wage will be $15 to $20 an hour, though some jobs will start out as low as $11 an hour.
Buster Attebery, chairman of the Karuk Tribal Council, said many tribal members had left the area because of the lack of jobs.
"One of the exciting things about the casino is, it will help bring back tribal members," he said.
Attebery himself had left but returned in 2008 to teach at Happy Camp High School.
Once the loans are paid down, the tribe will begin focusing more on the housing needs of its members, Attebery said.
"We have 700 people on a housing waiting list," he said.
In addition, the tribe wants to build health and dental clinics to serve members in Happy Camp and the Yreka area.
Just over the hill from the new casino, the Karuk have built 34 homes for tribal members among other reservation houses and apartments.
The Karuk Tribe believes the casino will help its approximately 3,700 tribal members but also will be a boon for Siskiyou County and Yreka, which have been in an economic slump since the decline of the timber industry.
The Karuks have about 420 members in the Yreka area. They have tribal lands in both Siskiyou and Humboldt counties. The main population centers are in Orleans, Happy Camp and Yreka.
Attebery said the Medford-Ashland area is a prime market for the casino. He believes it will draw people from Mount Shasta to Medford primarily, along with those traveling up and down Interstate 5.
The tribe has heard lots of complaints over the years that the casino will bring crime and other unsavory elements to the area, but Attebery said the casino will help restore some of the economic vitality that was lost to the region when the timber mills shut down.
Pat Conroy, who has lived in Yreka for 22 years, said the casino will provide jobs for locals, but other than that she wasn't interested in it because she's not a gambler.
"I doubt I will be going," she said. "It's not a big attraction."