Medford council cautious on casino

Medford City Council on Thursday expressed serious concerns about a proposed casino planned along South Pacific Highway, but it stopped short of making a formal statement about where it stands on the issue.

The council agreed to send a letter to federal officials outlining the progress it has made in dealing with the Coquille tribe, which wants to build a casino in the Medford city limits.

The tribe bought the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim's restaurant in hopes of building a casino fitted for approximately 600 slot machines.

City Attorney John Huttl read a letter he drafted to Kevin Washburn, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The letter stated that the council has been notified of the tribe's business plan, however, the city believes many of the details provided by the tribe are vague.

Huttl noted that the council has sought legal advice suggesting the land sought by the tribe does not qualify for gaming.

Among the other concerns expressed in the letter is a statement made by the tribe to the council saying the casino would employ more than 200 people with living-wage jobs.

The council said it feared that many of the jobs would come from businesses that provide state lottery gambling and would be forced to lay off workers because they can't compete with what the casino offers. In effect, the council argued that the casino would not create very many new jobs for the area.

The letter also stated the council's concern that the casino would grow beyond the initial proposal of a Class II gaming facility.

Class II casinos do not offer table games such as blackjack. Larger Class III casinos, such as Seven Feathers in Canyonville, offer a larger variety of games.

It is ultimately up to the federal government to decide whether to approve the Coquille's proposal.

Councilor Chris Corcoran was in favor of keeping the letter's language from expressing whether the council supports or opposes the casino.

"In my opinion, it's premature to take a position," Corcoran said.

His reasoning was that if the federal government approves the casino, the city would have less negotiating power with the tribe in terms of the size and scope of the casino should it come out strongly in opposition.

Councilor Bob Strosser agreed, saying that it's too early to make a formal declaration concerning the casino because so much about the tribe's plans remain unknown.

Strosser went so far as to say some of the information provided by the tribe was "woefully inadequate and wrong."

Councilor Al Densmore was wary of the tribe's opinion that the casino would be an economic boon to the city.

"This is the kind of economic development I'm not comfortable with for the city of Medford," Densmore said.

Councilor Dick Gordon echoed that sentiment, saying that money that might otherwise go to established local businesses might be directed into the casino.

Jackson County's Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to opposed the casino.

In response, the Coquille tribe released a statement saying that concerns of Jackson County's governments will be heard and resolved before the casino is built.

The statement again mentioned the 233 jobs the casino would create in Jackson County. The tribe also said that Jackson is one of five counties recognized by the federal government as part of the tribe's service area and that the casino can legally be built.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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