By RYAN PFEIL
Jackson County’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to oppose a proposal for an American Indian casino in Medford, and will send a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs outlining its opposition this week.
The commissioners cited concerns about several issues they say the Coquille Indian Tribe’s business plan fails to address. They worried that the casino would increase demands for police, jail space, addiction-recovery programs and street improvements in the area surrounding the proposed site.
“When we look at the impacts to the jail, the impacts to the Sheriff’s Department, the local police department, the traffic it would create, all of those things are concerns,” said Commissioner Doug Breidenthal. “The county has to be in a position to be able to get fees for services.”
Coquille officials previously have said they would work with local governments to ensure law enforcement and public utility needs are met and would be willing to pay fees to cover associated costs. Tribe communications director Ray Doering and tribal council Chairwoman Brenda Meade could not immediately be reached for further comment late Tuesday.
The tribe has proposed a casino at the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and former Kim’s Restaurant off South Pacific Highway, properties it purchased for a little over $2.2 million last year. The tribe also has leased the adjacent Bear Creek Golf Course.
The Coquilles have asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place 2.42 acres of the property in a government trust. That would start a process that could lead to reservation status for the site. Local governments are asked to provide recommendations to the federal government on the proposal, but have no decision-making authority in the process.
The casino has been a point of controversy for months among community members and the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians, which opposes the Coquilles’ proposal. The Cow Creek tribe, which runs the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville, says there is a “gentlemen’s agreement” in the state for only one casino for each tribe and also has said the Coquilles do not have a historical claim to Medford reservation land. The Coquilles already operate a casino in North Bend.
The Coquilles say the time frame on the one-casino agreement has lapsed and that Jackson County is one of five counties recognized by the federal government as part of the tribe’s service area.
Commissioners say they are also philosophically opposed to a casino in Medford because of the potential for enabling and creating gambling addictions.
“I don’t want Southern Oregon to be known as the gambling center of Oregon,” Commissioner John Rachor said. “Personally, I was philosophically against it.”
Breidenthal said he was conflicted over the proposal. He said he recognized the casino would create jobs, but was also concerned those jobs would come at the expense of existing businesses that offer gambling.
“It wouldn’t be new jobs created, necessarily,” Breidenthal said. “That’s part of the information I just don’t have.”
The board stressed its recommendation, along with the city of Medford’s, would be just that, a recommendation that would be weighed by the federal agencies involved.
“The Bureau of Indian Affairs will make that decision,” Rachor said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.