Proposed Medford Casino Causing a War of Words Between Tribal Factions
MEDFORD, Ore. — An outstanding application by the Coquille Tribe to open a casino in Medford, outside tribal reservation land, is again under scrutiny and is causing a war of words between opposing factions. The original application dates back more than 10 years. The Coquille-owned Medford land must be put under federal trust to allow a casino to operate and to collect gaming revenue.
If approved, the casino will operate from a remodeled bowling alley. The renewed effort to open the casino resurfaced earlier this month at a final hearing of the Bureau of Indian Affairs when public comment on the proposed project was invited.
Coquille Tribe Decade-Old Casino Application Moves Closer to Resolution
The fate of the Coquille Tribe’s application to open a casino in Medford is one step closer to resolution after the second and final hearing of the Bureau of Indian Affairs earlier this week.
At the hearing, several regional tribes opposed the application to establish the first off-reservation casino in Oregon.
According to legal experts, a favorable ruling would create a precedent, allowing the Coquille tribe to expand its casino operations into its five-county service area. The Coquille reservations are on various parcels of land in southern Coos County, and their casino operation could expand in Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, and Lane counties.
Coquille Has No Ancestral Ties to Medford
Several opponents to the application point out that the Coquille tribe has no ancestral ties to Medford.
Professor Stephen Dow Beckham says he has never seen such glaring and blatant ‘reservation shopping’. The Coquille Tribe are reaching 168 miles from North Bend in the treaty session area of the Rogue River Tribes to justify the entertainment venue.
The professor, who worked with Karuk and Cow Creek tribes at the federal level, points out that the Coquille are not Rogue River aboriginals and live on the Oregon coast.
The Coquille’s have conceded that a casino on Medford will decrease revenue at the Cow Creek’s casino resort by 25%, but Cow Creek spokesmen argue that the impact on income will be more severe. The financial impact will affect the Tribal government’s ability to provide employment and services.
Cow Creek’s opposition to the proposed casino is supported by the Karuk, Klamath, Smith River and Tolowa Dee-Ní Tribes, saying that the project does not acknowledge Tribes outside the Oregon region and who will be negatively affected.
In a statement responding to the hearing, Cow Creek CEO Michael Rondeau says if approved, the Coquille’s Medford casino could see the start of casinos mushrooming across Oregon.
Mr. Rondeau points out that the Coquille’s reservation is more than 160 miles away on the Oregon coast and that it has no ancestral ties to the Medford land which, he claims, they bought to bypass legal processes. The proposed 650 slot-machine project will be the first off-reservation casino in Oregon.
He points out that every Oregon governor has supported the practice of one casino per Tribe on reservation land. This policy has received overwhelming public support. To grant permission for the Medford casino would allow one Tribe to benefit at the detriment of the others.
Oregon adheres to a State Lottery and Tribal Casinos practice that allows gaming facilities only on reservation land.
Mr. Rondeau states that casino revenue bolsters the provision of Tribal government services and reduces dependence on local and state services. It creates a road to self-sufficiency for the Coquille Tribe as a sovereign nation.
Furthermore, for decades casino revenue has been contributing to the benefit of the entire Rogue Valley community.
Tolowa Dee-Ní vice chairman, Scott Sullivan, says the adverse socio-economic impacts of the casino on the Tribe are being underestimated. Income from its Lucky 7 casino funds critical services, social welfare and governmental programs for its people.
Another opponent is Russell Attebery, chairman of the Karuk Tribe that operates Rian Rock Casino 54 miles from Medford. Calling for an increased scope of analysis, he says the new casino will be a fatal blow to the Karuk Tribe’s economic development program and urged the Bureau of Indian Affairs not to close its eyes to the Karuk people. He believes that opening a casino outside of tribal lands could be ‘devastating’ to the Indian community.
Impassioned Plea to Oppose the Medford Casino
Senator Laphonza Butler (D – Cal) makes an impassioned plea to oppose the Medford Casino. in a letter to the Department of the Interior. He joined forces with Democratic senators Wyden, Merkley and Padilla.
Sen Laphonza urged the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Deb Haaland, to reject the application, saying if given the go-ahead, the precedent could reverse 35 years of progress since the introduction of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The IGRA has resulted in an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity for tribal nations across the country, says Sen. Laphonza.
Oregon Governor Opposes Medford Casino
Oregon Governor Tina Kotek is against the Medford casino and supports the state’s policy of one casino per tribe. Her stance has been endorsed in recent weeks with several opponents voicing their disapproval of the Coquille casino application.
Vociferously opposing the application have been the voices of more than 50 California tribes and Senator Ron Wyden (d-Ore), who has urged the Biden administration to squash the proposal. While the Department of the Interior rejected the plan in 2020, the Biden administration has ordered an environmental assessment. Those results are imminent.
Sen. Wyden says the Coquille application is ‘harming’ Indian tribes across the U.S. and rejects as deplorable a policy that allows off-reservation lands to be put into trust for casino development.
The Coquille tribe must place the land under federal trust to collect the casino gaming revenue.
Coquille’s Say Other Indian Tribes Fear Competition
Opposition to the Medford casino by other Indian tribes is based on a fear of competition, says Ray Doering of the Coquille’s economic development division.
Mr. Doering points out that Coquille opponents have the casino markets to themselves and have enjoyed a long-term gaming industry monopoly. He contends that they do not want to face competition.
The Coquille bought land in Medford in 2012 and has been applying for federal approval to establish a casino since then. The Tribe has another casino in North Bend.
A statement issued by the Coquille points out that the Tribe has been waiting for over a decade to complete a review process that is required before land can be put into trust. A decision by the federal government to publish an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) has yet to be taken.
The statement alleges that by promoting their own economic and political self-interests, antagonists to the Medford project have banded together to oppose “a small tribe’s ambitions’ of self-sufficiency.
Before making a final decision, the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior will open the floor to public comment.
The Coquille’s protracted fight is recorded in a document from the U.S. Department of the Interior dated May, 2020. Addressed to the Tribe chairperson, Brenda Meade at North Bend, Oregon, the letter states that after a thorough investigation of the Tribe’s application to place the 2.42 acre Medford site, (outside of reservation land), under trust was rejected.
The letter said the application was rejected because of jurisdictional problems that could arise because of the land acquisition, the distance from the land to the Tribe’s reservation, as well as consideration given to local and state governmental concerns.
Furthermore, benefits anticipated by the Tribe are not outweighed by the concerns raised by the state, county, and municipal governments that have regulatory jurisdiction over the Medford site or the potential jurisdictional problems that could arise.