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Gov. Brown: Hold the line

Gov. Kate Brown sent the Bureau of Indian Affairs a letter Wednesday opposing the efforts of the Coquille Indian Tribe to build a gaming facility in south Medford.

“I believe that the state should as a matter of policy resist the building of additional casinos because state support for even a single, modest additional casino is likely to lead to significant efforts to expand gaming across Oregon to the detriment of the public welfare,” Brown stated in an April 13 letter to Stan Speaks, northwest regional director of the BIA.

Despite her opposition, Brown said she believes the Coquille tribe would use the revenue generated by a Medford casino to benefit tribal members. Brown also said the proposed casino would be relatively small and would offer a more limited type of gambling experience.

Absent from Brown’s comments was any reference to the “one tribe, one casino” policy suggested by former Gov. John Kitzhaber, though she struck a similar chord.

“In essence, I believe it is essential that the state ‘hold the line’ on the number of casinos within her borders whenever possible,” Brown stated.

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 gaming. A casino with only video gambling is identified as a Class II gaming facility. A Class III gaming facility has video gambling as well as card games. The Coquille tribe has a Class III casino in North Bend known as The Mill Casino.

The Coquille tribe has asked the BIA to place the 2.42-acre Medford property, excluding an adjacent golf course, into 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 proposed casino, which would be called The Cedars. Publication of that document will trigger a public comment period, including a public hearing.

Despite the governor's opposition to the Coquille proposal, the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians did open a second casino last year on the coast just a few miles from the Coquille’s casino.

Brenda Meade, chairwoman of the Coquille tribe, reviewed the governor’s letter late Wednesday.

“I was surprised she didn’t refer to the one-casino policy,” she said.

Meade said when she spoke with the governor last week, Brown had mentioned the one-tribe, one-casino policy, which Meade said was never really an established policy in Oregon.

Meade said she doesn’t know why her tribe’s proposal to open a second casino in Medford is being opposed by the governor’s office, particularly when the one-casino, one-tribe policy already has been broken.

“I don’t think any governor has opposed a Class II casino,” Meade said, noting that she wonders why the Coquille tribe is being singled out.

Meade said her tribe had no reservation land when the federal government recognized it in the 1989 Coquille Restoration Act, which she said defined the tribal area as five counties in Southern Oregon, including Jackson County.

Since then, the tribe has been attempting to increase its support for tribal members, noting Jackson County has the second-highest number of members after Coos County.

The Coquille’s Medford casino plans have been opposed by local government officials and by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indian Tribe, which owns Seven Feathers in Canyonville.

“There has been an outcry of the Cow Creek,” Meade said. “It’s a tribe-against-tribe issue, and I don’t want that.”

The Cow Creek tribe applauded Brown’s letter Wednesday and continued to voice strong opposition to the Coquille’s proposal to build a second casino.

“The effort by the Coquille Tribe to open a second casino in Medford without any ancestral ties there is a blatant attempt to circumvent the rules,” Michael Rondeau, chief executive officer of the Cow Creek tribe, stated in a release sent out late Wednesday. “Not only would it open the door to the proliferation of gaming throughout the state without any checks and balances, but it would set dangerous precedent that could harm tribes across Indian country.”

Rondeau said the Coquille don’t have any historical ties to the Medford area, and the south Medford property shouldn’t be “restored” to them by the United States for gaming purposes.

He said the Medford casino proposal is 170 miles and approximately three hours from the Coquille’s tribal headquarters on ancestral lands.

The Cow Creek say the second casino by the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians was built on ancestral land and on part of the tribe's reservation established by Congress in 1984.

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