An American Indian tribe that runs Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville vows to block what it sees as an aggressive and "outrageous" attempt by the Coquille Indian Tribe to build a competing casino in Medford.
Wayne Shammel, attorney for the Cow Creek Umpqua tribe, said tribes in Oregon agreed years ago to limit the number of casinos, in part, to prevent the market from overheating.
If the Coquille Indian Tribe opened a casino in Medford, it would open the doors for more gaming facilities throughout the state, he said.
"It's going to be like a casino arms race at that point," he said.
Most of Seven Feathers' customers come from the Medford area, he said.
"It is our largest urban market, larger than Eugene by far," Shammel said. "The bottom line behind the Coquille decision is about gaming dollars."
The Coquille Indian Tribe recently purchased Kim's Restaurant and Roxy Ann Lanes along South Pacific Highway in Medford. The tribe has agreed to lease the Bear Creek Golf Course, next to the two buildings. The tribe will attempt to place the property in a U.S. government trust that starts a process that could lead to reservation status.
The Coquille tribe operates The Mill Casino in North Bend.
Under the 1989 federal restoration act, the Coquille tribal service area includes Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson and Lane counties.
In a prepared statement, the Cow Creek tribe claims the Coquille tribe's territory doesn't extend into the Rogue Valley, describing the attempt to start a casino here as "disappointing and outrageous."
If the Coquille tribe tries to expand its territory into Medford, the Cow Creek tribe might review its own policy and make its own move into this market.
Shammel said a Coquille casino in Medford would hurt smaller outfits that have lottery gaming machines. He said he will be meeting with other tribes throughout the state to assess the situation.
"My belief is that most, if not all the other tribes, will be opposing this move," he said.
Rob Greene, attorney for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, said, "I know this took us all by surprise. We are still digesting the ramifications."
Susan Matheson Ferris, spokeswoman for the Cow Creek tribe, said the effort to create another casino by the Coquille tribe runs counter to an executive order signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber during his prior administration that sets a framework with the understanding that each tribe in the state would be allowed one casino.
Edward Metcalf, chairman of the Coquille tribe, said he believes more casinos bring more people to a region, potentially increasing everyone's market share.
He said his tribe supported the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians when it built the Three Rivers Casino and Hotel in Florence, which is less than an hour's drive from North Bend.
Metcalf said the kind of casino envisioned in Medford would only have gaming machines, not the card tables that are found at Seven Feathers or The Mill.
"We're just talking about a small facility," he said.
Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, a Class III casino could have slot machines, blackjack, craps and roulette. A Class II casino would have more limited gaming machines. Seven Feathers and The Mill Casino are both Class III gaming facilities. Metcalf said the facility in Medford would be Class II.
The design for the casino in Medford hasn't been fully developed, but Metcalf said the bowling alley would be converted into a gaming machine floor and the restaurant and bar area would be remodeled.
He said he estimates the casino in Medford would employ about 100 people. Metcalf said the hope is the new casino would help the general welfare of tribal members who live in the Medford area.
He said he appreciates the concerns raised by the Cow Creek tribe, though he disagrees with them.
"They're a sovereign nation," Metcalf said. "They have the right to do whatever they want."
Chief Kenneth Tanner of the Coquille tribe said he expected the Cow Creek tribe to oppose the Medford proposal.
The Interstate 5 corridor in Oregon is only served by one casino, so another gaming facility shouldn't overheat the market, Tanner said.
The area around Kim's and the golf course would be required to provide enough parking, Tanner said, noting there are no plans for a bigger casino or hotel.
He said he doesn't think a small casino in Medford would hurt Seven Feathers.
"There is plenty to share," he said. "We want to work to revitalize the Southern Oregon economy."
Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith, who is an American Indian, said it's not an easy process to place a piece of land in trust as a reservation, even if a tribe has federal standing for assistance in an area.
He said he doesn't see the Coquille tribe as having much historical claim to Jackson County as part of its tribal area.
"That's a stretch," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.