The leaders of the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe told a Medford audience Friday that a Coquille tribe's request that could lead to a tribal casino in Medford is almost certain to first lead to legal challenges.
The Coquille Indian Tribe has purchased two properties and leased another in south Medford, and says it will petition the U.S. Interior Department to place the purchased land in federal trust, which would give the tribe the ability to open a casino there.
"If the secretary of the Interior makes the determination, 'Yes, you can place it in trust,' the next day you can expect us and others to file lawsuits," Cow Creek general counsel Wayne Shammel told a meeting of the Medford Rogue Rotary Club. "If the secretary of the Interior does not place it in trust, the next day you can expect the Coquilles to file a lawsuit."
Shammel said none of the tribes in the region has an unfettered claim to the Rogue Valley, but the Coquilles have a weaker one than most.
"With all due respect, this is not Coquille territory," he said.
Shammel said because of the overlapping ties to the area by the various tribes, approval of a casino for the Coquille tribe would likely lead to plans for more Rogue Valley casinos by other tribes.
"If the trust is granted, the Siletz, Grand Ronde, Klamath and us will be right behind," he said, "and you won't have one casino, you'll have four or five. It's just market reality."
In early September, the Coquilles announced they had purchased Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim's Restaurant in hopes of opening a Medford casino along South Pacific Highway. The tribe also agreed to lease Bear Creek Golf Course, adjacent to the two buildings.
The tribe purchased Roxy Ann Lanes for $1.6 million and Kim's for $675,000. The two properties total about 5 acres and the golf course is a little more than 18 acres.
In making plans to locate a casino on the site, the Coquilles noted that Jackson County is part of their service area, although they are based in North Bend, where they already operate The Mill Casino.
Mike Rondeau, chief executive officer of the Cow Creek Band, said the service area designation is not exclusive to the Coquille tribe. The Cow Creek, Klamath, Siletz and Grand Ronde tribes also include Jackson County in their service areas.
Both Rondeau and Shammel made it clear the Cow Creek Band would fight the Coquille proposal, in order to protect its Seven Feathers casino in Canyonville.
"Medford is our No. 1 market, so this is aimed at our economic future," Shammel said. "We understand the Coquilles need economic development. We're sympathetic ... but it's hard to be too sympathetic when you are taking money out of our kids' mouths and putting it in yours."
Contacted by phone in his North Bend office, Ray Doering, communications manager for the Coquille Indian Tribe, said the Cow Creek Band's opposition would not deter the Medford effort.
"Each tribe is going to respond in its own way," he said. "Our concern is to move the project forward."
Doering said the Coquilles have seen a positive reaction to their proposal from people in the Rogue Valley.
"We've seen a lot of support from people in the area," he said. "Folks are really looking forward to it and really positive."
Following the Rotary talk, Shammel and Rondeau said the Coquilles' claim to the Rogue Valley is tenuous. The service areas for the tribes, they said, are assigned by the federal government as areas in which the tribes may spend federal dollars on their various programs. They do not necessarily represent historical tribal lands.
The distance between Coos Bay and Medford will hurt the Coquille tribe's request, Shammel predicted. He noted that on-reservation casino requests are generally approved unless someone can prove they would be a detriment to the community. In the case of an off-reservation proposal, the burden shifts to the tribe to prove its value, he said.
"The farther away from the home base, the less there is a presumption of favor," Shammel said.
He said the typical distance limit for a casino has been about 50 miles from the main area of the tribe, while the "absolute limit" has been 100 miles. Coos Bay is 170 miles from the Medford site, he said.
Doering, of the Coquille tribe, said the tribe's connection with the Medford area is already acknowledged by the federal government.
"When it comes to improving our economic self-sufficiency, Jackson County is an area we can pursue activities," he said.
Shammel said like the Coquilles, the Cow Creek Band is not located in a population center. Its success is based in part on its proximity to Interstate 5.
"We have one big river to draw from and that's the freeway," he said. "We understand the Coquilles' desire to be in Medford — but we'd like to be in Portland."
Most of the Rotary presentation focused on the Cow Creek's history and its philanthropic endeavors in the Rogue Valley. According to a fact sheet handed out, the Cow Creek Band has given out $3.7 million in grants to nonprofit organizations in Jackson and Josephine counties, benefiting more than 170 local nonprofit agencies.
Reach Mail Tribune Editor Bob Hunter at 541-776-4460, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.