By DAMIAN MANN
Gov. John Kitzhaber has sent letters to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs strongly opposing the efforts by the Coquille tribe to build a casino in Medford.
“I do not believe that expansion of casinos is good for Oregon, and to safeguard against an unprecedented expansion of gambling in this state, it should be of no surprise that I oppose this application,” Kitzhaber wrote to Stan Speaks, northwest regional director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Monday.
In a separate letter sent to Speaks Monday, Kitzhaber cited the “one casino per tribe” policy that was agreed to in 1997.
The Coquilles, which run a casino in North Bend, have proposed building a casino at the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim’s Restaurant along South Pacific Highway. The tribe also agreed to lease Bear Creek Golf Course, adjacent to the two buildings.
The Coquilles have proposed a Class II facility in Medford, which can offer video gaming machines but no tables. There are currently no Class II facilities in the state.
Oregon’s nine Class III casinos can offer slot machines, blackjack, craps and roulette.
The Coquille tribe has asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place its 2.42 acres in south Medford in a government trust. That would start a process that could lead to reservation status for the site.
Kitzhaber said he’s worried that if the Coquilles obtain reservation status for the Medford property they will then be eligible for Class III gaming, though the Coquille tribe has insisted it will only operate a Class II facility.
Ray Doering, spokesman for the Coquilles, said Kitzhaber’s letter wasn’t unexpected. “We were disappointed but not surprised,” he said.
Doering said the 1997 policy statement cited by the governor was only supposed to last for a five-year period.
“That period has long since ended,” he said.
Doering said his tribe also is disappointed that local government officials haven’t endorsed the casino, but he said similar reactions have played out in hundreds of cities.
“Never has the first introduction of gaming into a community been embraced,” he said.
However, after a tribal casino has been open for five years, the community generally warms up to the idea, he said.
The Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians, which operates Seven Feathers in Canyonville, has opposed the Coquilles’ planned move to Medford and says it opens the doors for a “casino arms race.”
The Cow Creeks are planning to purchase 1,700 acres surrounding the base of the Table Rocks, but say the property is for agricultural purposes and not for expanding their gaming operations into Medford.
Kitzhaber has asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to deny the Coquille application on the grounds that it raises regulatory, fiscal and public safety concerns, including increased crime and more alcohol, drug and gambling abuse.
Kitzhaber said concerns raised by both Jackson County and the city of Medford also weighed into his thinking on the issue.
The Coquille tribe believes it can show the Medford area is part of its historical lands, citing the second highest number of tribal members in Jackson County, with Coos County having the most.
Kitzhaber said he doesn’t believe the Coquille tribe has shown enough evidence to support a strong historical or modern connection with the lands in Jackson County.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.