Development for whom?

An Indian casino in Medford wouldn't necessarily help the local economy

The Coquille Indian Tribe's proposal to establish a gambling casino in Medford has drawn strong opposition from Gov. John Kitzhaber and from the Jackson County commissioners and concern — but not yet formal opposition — from the Medford City Council. Count us among the doubters that a Class II casino would benefit the local community in any substantial way.

The Coquilles, who operate The Mill Casino in North Bend, have purchased the Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim's Restaurant and leased the adjacent Bear Creek Golf Course. The tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place 2.42 acres of the property into a government trust — the first step toward gaining reservation status for the land.

The Coquilles propose a Class II casino in the bowling alley building. Games would consist of 600 gambling machines, but not blackjack, craps or other table games found in full-service Class III casinos such as The Mill and Seven Feathers, operated by the Cow Creek tribe in Canyonville.

Tribal officials stress the economic development the project would bring to the area, creating what they say would be more than 200 family-wage jobs. But not all "economic development" is equally beneficial or desirable.

For starters, the "casino" would be little more than a glorified bingo hall. In fact, the technology used by the machines consists of a computer chip generating random numbers based on bingo to determine winners and losers.

If the tribe were proposing a full-blown Nevada-style casino such as Seven Feathers, with a luxury resort hotel, fine dining and entertainment and table games in addition to slot machines, it might add to the valley's already thriving tourism industry. A Class II operation, is likely to have little positive effect.

A study by Coopers and Lybrand of the potential economic impact of casino gambling in Ontario, Canada, concluded that attracting gamblers and their dollars from outside the area would be a benefit. Gamblers staying overnight in Atlantic City, for instance, spent more money on lodging, food and other expenses than they lost in the casino.

"The economic function of casinos becomes a more dubious proposition," the authors continued, "when the primary market is the local population. In such cases the transfer of income and assets benefits the local casino at the expense of local residents."

It seems likely that a Class II casino would attract primarily local residents, and many of the jobs it would create would replace jobs lost at other local gambling establishments — Oregon Lottery retailers — without a net benefit to the local employment rate. In addition, dollars spent gambling on Oregon Lottery machines support state services such as schools, economic development — there's that word again — and salmon habitat restoration. Dollars spent in a tribal casino would benefit the tribe.

The Coquilles may succeed in gaining reservation status for their casino venture despite local opposition. That might be a good thing for the tribe, but it is unlikely to be a good thing for Medford and the Rogue Valley.

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