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Gov. Brown opposes Medford casino

Gov. Kate Brown’s formal opposition to a proposed $26 million casino in Medford prompted the Coquille Indian Tribe to express “deep disappointment” Friday.

“I was disappointed the governor was really stepping out in front of this process,” said Brenda Meade, chairwoman of the Coquille tribe. “We’re looking at a long federal process, and we thought she’d allow that process to happen.”

Meade said Brown told her earlier this week that she had concerns about the expansion of gaming in Oregon with the Coquille’s proposal to build The Cedars at Bear Creek in south Medford.

Brown will denounce the proposal in a letter she plans to send next week to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to Chris Pair, spokesman for the governor.

Pair said the governor wouldn’t have any additional comments until the letter was finished.

The tribe wants to convert the current Roxy Ann Lanes bowling alley and the former Kim's restaurant site on Highway 99 into a casino with video gambling machines.

The Coquille tribe has asked the BIA to place the 2.42-acre property, excluding an adjacent golf course, in a government trust. In addition, the tribe has asked the federal Office of Indian Gaming Management for an exception to a prohibition on gaming on lands acquired after October 1988.

The tribe is awaiting the BIA’s release of a draft environmental impact statement on The Cedars. Publication of that document will trigger a public comment period, including a public hearing.

The tribe sent a media release Friday to express its "deep disappointment" and referred to Brown’s opposition to the casino as a continuation of the “Kitzhaber Doctrine,” based on the former governor’s extensive opposition to The Cedars.

"I do not believe that expansion of casinos is good for Oregon, and to safeguard against an unprecedented expansion of gambling in this state, it should be of no surprise that I oppose this application," Kitzhaber wrote in 2013 to Stan Speaks, northwest regional director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In a separate letter sent to Speaks, Kitzhaber cited the "one casino per tribe" policy that was agreed to in 1997.

Meade said she dismissed the one-casino rule as “political fantasy.”

She said the policy appears in no state law, executive order or official policy. The Coquille tribe’s gaming compact with the state puts no limit on Class II (video terminal) gaming by the tribe.

The Coquille have proposed a Class II facility in Medford, which can offer video gaming machines but no table games. There are currently no Class II facilities in the state.

Oregon's nine Class III casinos offer slot machines, blackjack, craps and roulette.

Meade said her tribe has 1,050 members, and Jackson County has the second-highest number of tribal members of any county after Coos.

She said the tribe needs to look to the future to increase its income because of rising health care costs and more dollars needed for investment in education. Meade said more than half the tribe's health care costs come from general fund dollars.

Faced with opposition from the governor’s office and local governments, the tribe will attempt to answer some of the concerns.

Meade said the city of Medford is concerned it will have to use more tax dollars to improve police, fire and transportation services to accommodate a casino. Meade said the tribe wants to make sure that it covers its fair share of costs for these services.

The worst criticism has been that the tribe doesn’t have the right to be in Medford and that it is conducting “reservation shopping,” Meade said. Reservation shopping was a term used by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

“That’s a pretty derogatory statement to make, particularly from another tribe,” Meade said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.