A casino under construction in Yreka, Calif., could see a 22 percent revenue drop if the Coquille Indian Tribe places a video-gambling operation in Medford, an analysis obtained from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs reveals.
Buster Atteberry, chairman of the Karuk Tribe, agrees the proposed Medford casino would have a detrimental effect on the tribe's business, which is expected to be heavily reliant on customers from Jackson County.
“We have to face the fact that the casino business is somewhat saturated,” Atteberry said.
In response to a public records request, the Mail Tribune received a copy of an administrative draft environmental impact statement from the BIA. The approximately 2,500-page document describes various analyses of the Coquille tribe’s casino proposal, including how it would affect revenue at surrounding casinos.
The Coquille tribe wants to build a casino called Cedars at Bear Creek along Highway 99 in south Medford. The tribe would convert the current Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former site of Kim's restaurant into a casino with 650 video gambling machines, but wouldn’t have many of the card games featured at other larger casinos in the state such as Seven Feathers in Canyonville.
The BIA document relies on various studies, many of which were prepared by consultants working for the Coquille tribe. One of the consultants, Global Market Advisors, projected the loss in revenue to other tribes if the Medford casino opened its doors in 2019.
According to the consulting firm, the Karuk Casino gaming revenues in Yreka would get the biggest hit at 21.9 percent, followed by the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Tribes' Kla-Mo-Ya Casino in Chiloquin at 16.5 percent. The Cow Creek Tribe would see a revenue drop of 13.2 percent at Seven Feathers, according to the study.
But Michael Rondeau, the Cow Creeks' chief executive officer, said he believes the revenue losses are vastly underestimated in the BIA document, and his tribe’s own analysis projects closer to 50 percent.
“If half of our revenue is cut, it would put us into serious issues where we could default on our bonds,” he said.
The Coquille tribe’s rationale for building a Medford casino is to help make up for declining revenues at the tribe’s Mill Casino in the Coos Bay area. Also, the casino would be subject to flooding if a tsunami were to strike the coast, according to the Coquilles. Money generated from both the Medford and North Bend casino operations would help fund and expand tribal programs.
According to the BIA document, the Medford casino would generate about $32 million in revenue in 2019. By contrast, another option — to expand the Mill Casino — would generate $5 million in additional gaming revenue. The Medford casino is projected to draw 519,364 visitors annually, 90 percent of them from the Medford area.
Direct and indirect salaries at the casino would amount to $7.3 million annually. The casino would employ 216 full-time workers.
In the BIA document, various options are considered for the casino, including expansion of The Mill Casino, as well as a location off North Phoenix Road outside Phoenix. One option includes development of an onsite water supply and wastewater treatment plant at the South Pacific Highway location. An option also being considered is to not build a casino. The preferred option, according to the BIA document, is to build the casino at the south Medford location using municipal water and municipal sewer systems.
Atteberry said that when his tribe first planned for the Yreka casino, the Coquille tribe hadn’t announced plans to build a casino in Medford. As a result, he said, his tribe had to undertake new studies to make sure the Yreka casino could adapt to competition from the north.
Brenda Meade, chairwoman of the Coquille tribe, said she agreed that a casino in Medford would cut into the revenues of surrounding casinos.
“Do I think there will be effects on other folks? Yes, but I don’t know how to quantify that,” she said.
On the other hand, she said, no one appears concerned about the impact on The Mill Casino from a new gaming operation that opened last year a few miles away in Coos Bay — known as Three Rivers Casino Coos Bay.
“We welcomed the Coos tribe opening in Coos Bay, but it has affected us,” she said.
Meade said every tribe has to make its own business decisions in order to survive and bring in enough revenues for programs to support its tribal members.
Meade said she isn’t sure why Medford and Jackson County don’t support the casino idea, particularly if it creates local jobs and pumps money into the local economy.
“This project is going to be really cool for Medford,” she said. “I’m not sure what the hate is, for sure. I’m not seeing that in mainstream Medford, other than the well-funded opposition from Cow Creek.”
She said concerns about impacts on law enforcement and other agencies aren’t justified.
“The police get more calls from the Walmart in Coos Bay than the casino,” she said.
Meade said the Bureau of Indian Affairs process is extensive and ultimately will address issues raised by local agencies.
Rondeau said allowing the Coquilles to build a casino in Medford would amount to a radical change in policy that would set in motion the proliferation of casinos throughout the state.
He said the change would overturn a well-grounded policy of one casino per reservation, noting the Medford proposal isn’t on reservation land but only in the Coquilles' service area.
Rondeau said that if the Coquilles are successful in Medford, it could open the door for the tribe to place casinos in any of their service areas, including Ashland, Canyonville, Roseburg, Eugene and Florence.
“The saturation of gaming would be bad for everyone,” Rondeau said.