Congress takes critical look at casino proposal

Congressional subcommittee raises questions over Coquille Tribe's proposal for a casino in Medford
The Mill Casino in North Bend is operated by the Coquille Indian Tribe. Sept. 2012 file photoSept. 2012 file photo

A Congressional subcommittee took a dim view of the Coquille Indian Tribe's proposed move into Medford because it would be a competitive threat to the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians.

"The Cow Creek tribe in Oregon is facing a difficult situation, and I'm concerned, if we're not careful, that it could create an epidemic across the country," said Rep. Don Young, chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.

Young, R-Alaska, told the subcommittee at a Sept. 19 hearing that the Coquille tribe already owns a casino on aboriginal land and has proposed moving into the Cow Creeks' territory, potentially threatening as many as 500 jobs at the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville.

The Coquilles have proposed a $26 million casino in Medford, known as The Cedars at Bear Creek, on the site of the still-operating Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim's Restaurant on South Pacific Highway. The tribe also would lease the nearby Bear Creek Golf Course.

The Coquille tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the 2.42-acre property, excluding the golf course, in a government trust. The Kim's building would be razed to build a parking lot.

The Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville has 1,022 video gaming machines, and the facility proposed for Medford would have about 600 machines.

The U.S. Congressional subcommittee warned that a proliferation of casinos could ultimately undermine one of the main economic underpinnings of many Indian tribes.

"Eventually the states are going say to hell with it and say, 'We will legalize gambling,'" Young said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also warned earlier this year against the practice of reservation shopping by tribes in her state and around the country.

Young said tribes are attempting to build casinos farther and farther away from aboriginal lands.

"And then you have another casino 180 miles away that jumps over the mountains and looks for lands in trust to build a casino," Young said. "That just doesn't make sense to me."

The subcommittee proposed rewriting the rules of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 to make it more difficult for tribes to establish gaming facilities far afield from their existing reservation.

"Many tribes are currently operating successful facilities on their own reservations in accordance with IGRA," Young said. "However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is approving off-reservation facilities that threaten the viability of these existing operations."

Brenda Meade, chairperson for the Coquille tribe, said the 1989 restoration act for her tribe specifically cites the five counties, including Jackson, that it can conduct business in.

She said the tribe wants the casino in Medford to help pay for its members' health care, education and economic needs.

Meade said the tribe was restored a year after the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, so she said the restoration act was very specific in describing where it could conduct business.

She said she takes offense to any suggestion of reservation shopping, referring to it as a "derogatory" expression that doesn't apply to this situation.

When the Siuslaw Indians proposed the Three Rivers Casino and Hotel in Florence, which is less than an hour's drive from North Bend, the Coquilles supported the idea, Meade said.

She said the Coquilles are going through a similar process in Medford.

Ray Doering, spokesman for the Coquilles, said the Indian gaming act was designed to help lift tribes out of poverty.

"Nobody wrote in there that anyone was guaranteed a monopoly," he said. "I-5 is not built for just one business. It was built for everybody's business."

The Cow Creek tribe criticized the Coquilles for attempting to place a casino on land with which it has no aboriginal connection.

In a statement released Monday, Cow Creek officials said they have shown an aboriginal tie to the Medford area.

Wayne Shammel, general counsel for the Cow Creek, stated, "The Tribe was glad to see the hearing was full of opponents to 'reservation shopping' efforts such as the Coquille Medford casino proposal."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.



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