By DAMIAN MANN
Gov. John Kitzhaber has asked for more time for the state to weigh in on an application to build a casino in Medford and has received a 60-day extension from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Kitzhaber wants to see a business plan for the casino and gauge the potential impacts of allowing the type of gambling being proposed.
“It’s a first-of-its-kind application,” said Tim Rafael, spokesman for Kitzhaber
The Coquille Indian Tribe, which runs the Mill Casino in North Bend, has proposed a casino in Medford at the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley on South Pacific Highway, which it purchased along with the adjacent property, formerly the site of Kim’s Restaurant. The tribe also has agreed to lease the nearby Bear Creek Golf Course.
The tribe has asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the 2.42-acre property in a U.S. government trust. That would start a process that could lead to reservation status for the site.
Kitzhaber’s general counsel, Liani Reeves, sent a certified letter on Feb. 28 to Stan Speaks, Northwest regional director for the BIA, asking for an additional 60 days for the state to comment on the application.
The deadline for comments was March 6, and BIA has granted an extension to May 6.
The governor previously has opposed efforts by other tribes to build second casinos in Oregon, saying it violates the spirit of a long-standing agreement to limit casinos to one per tribe.
The Coquilles propose building a Class II casino in Medford, which would have 500 video game machines, but no table games. Class III casinos in the state, such as The Mill Casino or Seven Feathers in Canyonville, have a greater variety of video gaming machines, along with table games such as roulette or blackjack.
The governor also wants to discuss the proposal with local governments, including the city of Medford and Jackson County. The Oregon Department of Transportation sent a letter on Feb. 25 to the BIA expressing concern about the casino’s impacts on traffic on Highway 99.
ODOT recommended a traffic impact analysis be conducted along the highway in the area near the proposed casino. ODOT also requested an analysis of the impact on the south Medford interchange for Interstate 5.
Medford city Councilor Eli Matthews said the city also received a 30-day extension period from the BIA so it could analyze the local impacts on city services such as the police department.
“We need more time to do that,” he said.
Ray Doerning, spokesman for the Coquilles, said the tribe has agreed to the requests for extensions.
“We want to be sure everybody is fully informed,” he said. “We want to extend the courtesy of allowing them the time to be able to gather that information.
Doerning said his tribe is aware of concerns raised about breaking the one-casino-per-tribe standard.
“That’s a muddy area there as to what people agreed to,” he said. “There is no real agreement.”
The Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe has opposed the Coquille proposal, saying it would hurt its Seven Feathers Casino along with Medford-area lottery dealers.
“There will be major revenue drops,” said Wayne Shammel, attorney for the Cow Creek tribe, which says the Medford area is the source of the largest number of customers for Seven Feathers.
He said a past study by ECONorthwest indicated that a gaming casino could cut lottery revenues in the immediate area by more than 47 percent.
Shammel said the Coquilles are correct that there is no formal agreement limiting a tribe to just one casino.
“It really is just a gentleman’s agreement of understanding,” he said.
But the Cow Creeks will continue to oppose the Coquille proposal, which Shammel said is a threat to the viability of gaming throughout Oregon.
The Cow Creek tribe has been seeking documents filed by the Coquille tribe with the federal government that will become part of its arguments against the Medford casino, Shammel said.
“We are involved in discussions with every level of government,” he said. “We will formally object. We are just waiting for the right time.”
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.