Tribes Join Cow Creek in Opposing Medford Casino Expansion

Rendering of proposed gaming facility in Medford for Coquille Indian Tribe.

Multiple Tribes from the region announced opposition in late January to the Coquille’s nearly 10-year effort to build a second casino in Medford, more than 150 miles away from their home in North Bend, Oregon.

The hearing was the second and final meeting held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to record public comment on the proposed project, which will play a role in the agency’s decision on whether to allow the Coquille to build Oregon’s first off-reservation casino.

By their own account, Coquille estimates that Cow Creek’s Seven Feathers Casino Resort would suffer a 25% decrease in gaming revenue, and that it would take 16 years to recover. Yet financial experts at Cow Creek argue the recovery would take much longer and revenue impacts would be much deeper, drastically affecting the ability of Tribal government to provide services, programs and employment to their members and non-tribal employees.

Legal experts say a decision made in favor for the Coquille expansion could set a precedent and allow them to build as many casinos in their five-county service area as desired, including Jackson, Douglas, Coos, Curry and Lane counties.

Several participants made note that Coquille has no ancestral ties to the Medford area.

“Coquille Tribe was not an aboriginal Tribe in the Rogue River Valley. They lived over on the coast of Oregon,” said Professor Stephen Dow Beckham, a scholar who worked with both Cow Creek and the Karuk Tribe during similar federal processes.

“Never have I seen a case of more blatant, glaring reservation shopping than the proposal of the Coquille Tribe to reach 168 miles from North Bend, Oregon into the treaty cession area of the Rogue River Tribes to try to justify a second casino and entertainment venue,” Beckham said.

Karuk, Tolowa Dee-Ní, Smith River and Klamath Tribes have joined Cow Creek in opposition to the Coquille Medford casino. Tribal leadership from both Tolowa Dee-Ní and Karuk pointed out that the proposed project fails to acknowledge Tribes outside of Oregon that stand to be negatively impacted.

“The adverse socio-economic effects on the Tolowa Dee-Ní Nation are severely underestimated,” said Tolowa Dee-Ní Vice Chairman Scott Sullivan. “The nation depends on revenues from its Lucky 7 gaming facility to fund critical, governmental and social welfare programs and services for our citizens.”

Chairman Russell Attebery of the Karuk Tribe, operators of Rain Rock Casino located 54 miles from Medford in Yreka, said the proposed casino would be a fatal blow to their economic development program. He also pushed back and insisted on equal time to complete his comments that was afforded to Coquille Chairman Brenda Meade.

“I urge that you do not close your eyes to the Karuk and regional people that will be impacted by this decision. These impacts will only be seen and considered by pausing your current process and increasing the scope of analysis by conducting a new proper scoping period,” Attebery said.

Cow Creek CEO Michael Rondeau issued the following public statement in response to the hearing:

The Coquille Tribe’s reservation is on the Oregon Coast – 160 miles from Medford. They have no ancestral ties to the land they purchased and are trying to bypass the proper legal process to build an off-reservation casino. If approved, this would be the first off-reservation casino in Oregon with 650 slot machines – and mark the beginning of the mass proliferation of casinos across Oregon, big and small.

 Oregon has maintained a delicate balance of government-sponsored gaming through the Oregon State Lottery or Tribal Casinos on reservation land. Every Governor has upheld the practice of one casino per Tribe on reservation land. The public overwhelmingly supports this practice and policy – and there is no reason to change it so that one Tribe can benefit at the expense of all others.

 Just as the lottery supports state public services, our casino revenue supports our Tribal government services. It allows us to reduce our dependence on state and local services, restore a path to self-sufficiency as a sovereign nation, and contribute to the good for the entire community, as we have been doing throughout the Rogue Valley for decades.

 We want all Tribes to be able to provide for their people. The Coquille already have the Mill Casino on their reservation in North Bend. However, if their second, off-reservation casino is approved, it would only benefit them at the expense of Tribes in Oregon, like the Cow Creek and Klamath, and Tribes in Northern California. Even according to Coquille’s estimates, this Casino will cut our services to Tribal members by 25%.