YREKA, Calif. — A proposed tribal casino could either be a bust for the local community or a eureka moment for a depressed economy that needs jobs and an infusion of gambling dollars from Medford, local residents say.
"On the one hand, I like it because it might be good for the Karuk Tribe," said Steve Roads, 28, a tribal member. "On the other hand, it could change Yreka. I'm more worried about the community than the tribe."
Cost $35 million for first phase
— Source: Karuk Tribe
Timeline for approval
— Source: Karuk Tribe
For years, Siskiyou County has debated the merits of a casino that would compete for customers with Seven Feathers in Canyonville or the Cedars at Bear Creek casino proposed in Medford. Yreka is about 60 miles from Medford, Canyonville about 70.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on the Karuk casino on Dec. 5, but the proposal still has bureaucratic hurdles to overcome before construction can begin, possibly as early as next summer.
The Karuks say the casino would bring 350 jobs to Siskiyou County, where unemployment hovers at 11 percent. It would start at 36,000 square feet with 500 gaming machines, eight table games, a 100-seat restaurant and a large parking area. The cost estimate for the first phase is up to $35 million.
The second phase would add 20,000 square feet to accommodate 300 more gaming machines, eight more table games and an 80-room hotel and more parking. No cost estimates were available for the second phase.
The tribe needs its gaming compact ratified by the California State Legislature as well as agreements with the city of Yreka, Siskiyou County and the California Department of Transportation.
In Yreka, residents seem to have strong opinions about the casino and its possible effect on the community.
Roads lives in a tribal village on the outskirts of Yreka, where the Karuks run a smoke shop, a Head Start center and community room. He said he's just not convinced the casino will help the local economy enough. He's not even sure that it will help the tribe much, citing other areas where outsiders are hired at casinos. "The positives don't outweigh the negatives," he said.
His wife, 28-year-old Geneva Lopstain, said she thought the casino could help the local economy.
"I think it would be good for the job situation," she said.
The Karuks number 3,686, with 418 members in the Yreka area. They have tribal lands in both Siskiyou County and in Humboldt County. The main population centers are in Orleans, Happy Camp and Yreka.
Tribal member Patricia Super, 64, said she couldn't wait to gamble at the casino, adding she would go there every day if she could. She's also planning to apply for a job there.
"I love it," she said.
The Karuks' proposed casino appears to be drawing no opposition from its competitors: the Coquille Indian Tribe, which hopes to build the Cedars in Medford, and the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indians, which could potentially lose Seven Feathers customers to Yreka.
Ray Doering, spokesman for the Coquille, said his tribe has always respected the intentions of other tribes that propose casinos.
"We wish them all the best," Doering said. "They have every right to do what they're doing."
He acknowledged the Karuk casino could take market share away from a Medford casino or from Seven Feathers.
"There may be some overlap," he said. "That's business."
Michael Rondeau, Cow Creek chief executive officer, said in an email response that the Karuk proposal is appropriate because the tribe wants to build a casino in its aboriginal area.
"We view the Karuks' efforts as healthy, legal competition," he wrote. "The difference with them is they are developing in their aboriginal territory, the Coquilles are not."
The Cow Creek opposes the Coquilles' move to Medford that would siphon off one of its main customer bases. Seven Feathers offers bus service to bring customers up from as far south as Yreka and as far north as Eugene.
The $26 million casino the Coquilles propose for South Pacific Highway would be a smaller operation than its Mill Casino in Coos County. The Medford facility would have 600 gaming machines and would be built 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 Coquilles have 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 proposal has been criticized by Gov. John Kitzhaber and local officials.
The Cow Creek don't believe the Coquilles have a legitimate aboriginal claim in the Medford area, but the Coquilles argue they do, citing the second largest number of tribal members in Jackson County. Also, Chief Kenneth Tanner lives in Ashland.
Jaclyn Goodwin, self-governance coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said the general market area that the casino will draw from ranges from Redding, Calif., to the south to Medford to the north.
"I think a lot of the traffic is going to come from Interstate 5," she said.
Redding already has the Win-River Resort and Casino, just to the south.
Goodwin said she thinks the Karuks' casino proposal should receive approval from the California Legislature.
"It's a pretty non-controversial casino," she said. "The governor's in support of it."
The Karuk is the second largest tribe in the state after the Yurok, Goodwin said. The Yurok Tribe also plans to build the Redwood Hotel Casino in Klamath, Calif.
Goodwin said tribal members will be given a preference in filling jobs at the Karuk casino. If two people are equally qualified for a position, the tribal member would be given preference.
Karuk Chairman Buster Attebery said in a prepared statement that the tribe's goal is to boost economic opportunities in the region.
"We are committed to hiring local vendors and businesses when possible," he said.
In the former mining town of Yreka, which many locals say reminds them of Jacksonville, merchants have strong opinions about the casino and some skepticism about the economic opportunities.
Heidi Martin, owner of the Sewing Room in downtown Yreka, said her parents lived in Atlantic City, N.J., before the casinos. "As soon as the casinos came to Atlantic City, you get the crime and other problems. We witnessed that, and it made my parents sick."
Her sister-in-law, Linda Schantz Martin, who owns Brown Eyed Gal Designs in the same building, said a casino is not the kind of industry that would help Yreka. She said she would prefer a more robust timber industry to help bring down the unemployment rate.
Martin said she and her sister-in-law see no benefit in the casino for the town of Yreka.
"Our answers are 'no,'" she said.
Across the street, Debbie Robison of Farm Girl Antiques said the economy is hurting locally and people need jobs.
"If it brings income to Yreka, it's a good thing," she said.
Dan Daniels, owner of New Traditions Dulcimers and Wood Crafts in downtown Yreka, said he's hardly given the casino issue a second thought.
"It's OK if they want to, and it's OK if they don't," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.
Correction: A typographical error has been fixed in this headline.