Oregon Governor Says She Doesn’t Support Another Medford Casino

Written By J.R. Duren on May 1, 2023
Second casino in Medford Oregon faces opposition

Oregon has eight tribal casinos and, if it’s up to Gov. Tina Kotek, it’s going to stay that way.

In a letter addressed to the nine federally recognized tribes in the state, Kotek said that she opposed the Coquille Indian Tribe‘s push to open a second casino in Medford. The reason? Past governors have limited each tribe to one casino, and she wants to keep it that way.

According to the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians‘ website Kotek stated:

“Throughout my legislative career…I have been clear that I do not favor an expansion of gaming. This applies to Tribes and the STate. Therefore, my policy on Tribal gaming facilities maintains the status quo from past governors, i.e., good faith bargaining between sovereign Tribes and the State on one gaming facility per tribe on reservation land.”

Why the governor had to address Oregon casino growth

When a tribe wants to acquire land that goes into a trust, it has to get the permission of its regional Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office. While the process sounds simple, it’s a bit more complex because the intention of putting land into a trust solely for gaming means the tribe has to meet additional criteria.

The Coquille tribe submitted to the BIA an application for 2.42 acres of land in Medford in 2012. The following year, it submitted its casino plans to the Medford City Council. The city council voted to oppose the development.

Fast forward eight years. In 2020, the BIA denied the Coquille Tribe’s application. But, in late 2021, it reversed its decision because of a technicality.

Then, this past month, the Medford City Council signed a non-binding resolution that rescinded its vote of opposition back in 2013.

With a BIA and city council reversal in its favor, it felt like the Coquille Tribe had gained some important momentum in their push to build in Medford, which is more than 150 miles from its reservation.

And, it’s likely because of those key decisions that the governor issued her recent statement.

Tribes push back on Coquille’s plan to open a second casino

Kotek isn’t the only person who opposed the Coquille Tribe opening a second casino. Other tribes in the state, particularly the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians have been vocal about their displeasure over the Medford casino.

In a statement issued at the end of 2022, Cow Creek doubled down on their frustration about the casino. The Coquille’s calculations show a Medford casino would drop revenue from Cow Creeks Seven Feathers Casino Resort by 25%. Furthermore, the tribe noted it would take 16 years to recover from that lost revenue.

However, Cow Creek’s experts say that damage would be far greater:

“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,” the tribe said.

What’s next for the Medford casino?

Cases like this one that involves city councils, state governments, and federal agencies like the BIA take years to resolve. So, there’s no clear deadline for when this dispute will end. The BIA holds the trump card.

If they approve the trust, the Coquille Tribe scores a major victory. If they reject the trust, it could set back the Coquille’s plans indefinitely, or altogether end them.

In the meantime, the Medford City Council stated in a press release it will continue to work with the Coquille Tribe.

“The City is having productive discussions with the Coquille Tribe and intends on continuing to negotiate a municipal services agreement with the Coquille Tribe, which would provide for compensation for services (such as first responder services) and other mitigation measures.”

Photo by Claire Rush, File / AP photo
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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