A congressional effort led by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein hopes to slow the proliferation of tribal casinos. And the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians say a proposal by the Coquille tribe for a Medford casino could be Exhibit A in the debate.
"What they are doing is 'reservation shopping,' " said Wayne Shammel, attorney for the Cow Creeks.
Ray Doering, spokesman for the Coquille, said his tribe will show that it has a modern as well as historical connection to the Medford area.
"This is not what you would call reservation shopping," said Doering, whose tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place 2.42 acres in south Medford in a government trust. That would start a process that could lead to reservation status for the site.
In addition, the Coquille tribe has asked the federal Office of Indian Gaming Management for an exception to a prohibition on gaming on lands acquired after October 1988.
In September 2012, the Coquille announced it 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 covers a little more than 18 acres. Both the bowling alley and the golf course continue to operate.
The Coquille say Jackson County is part of its service area, although the tribe is based in North Bend, where it already operates The Mill Casino.
The Cow Creek tribe, based in Canyonville where it runs the Seven Feathers Casino, has voiced its opposition to the Medford casino plan, saying it breaks a gentleman's agreement among the nine tribes in the state to operate only one casino each.
The Cow Creek tribe maintains the Coquille don't have a legitimate historical claim to reservation land in Medford and say Medford-area residents are Seven Feathers' single largest group of customers. North Bend is about 175 driving miles from Medford, while the distance to Canyonville is slightly more than 70 miles.
Plans for the Coquille casino will be laid out before Medford City Council on April 23.
In the meantime, Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed an amendment on March 6 to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that would make it more difficult for tribes to set up casinos on land to which they don't have a strong historical and modern claim.
"The new standard is needed because too many tribes in California and across the nation are 'reservation shopping,' " said Feinstein, according to the congressional record for the Senate.
Feinstein cited a 2006 report, titled "Gambling in the Golden State," that described the affects of tribal casinos on surrounding communities.
The report found that new casinos are associated with a 10 percent increase in violent crime and a 10 percent increase in bankruptcy. Law enforcement expenses rise by $15.34 per resident annually in communities with casinos.
California spends an estimated $1 billion annually on residents with gambling problems, and 75 percent of those residents identify Indian casinos as their gambling preference, the report described.
Shammel said the problems California faces with gambling are more significant than Oregon's, though he conceded there could be abuses connected with Oregon's Indian casinos.
"There will always be problems with gambling," he said.
He said that in the long run tribes need to plan for a future where casinos are not the major source of income.
Shammel said the Cow Creek plans to invest more in agricultural and forest enterprises in the future, and casinos will provide the money to fund these other enterprises.
"The reality is it is a means to an end, and the casinos aren't an end in themselves," he said.
Shammel said attempts by tribes to extend reservation land ultimately will dilute the casino industry in general. He said the effort by Feinstein will face stiff opposition from tribes.
Doering said his tribe would have to analyze the California gambling study to see whether it is applicable to Oregon. As more people come to a community, he said, the crime rate naturally would go up.
Pathological gambling is a problem even in areas where there isn't a casino, Doering said.
He agreed that the casino industry could become saturated in time, but he doesn't think the Coquille's proposal for Medford would spell saturation for this state.
"It is unlikely to start a free-for-all," he said. The Cow Creek has stated previously that the Coquille's proposal could open the door for more casinos statewide.
Doering said he would agree that casinos probably are not the best long-term plan for the financial well-being of tribes.
"Putting your eggs in one basket is never a good idea," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.