SALEM, Ore. – The Coquille Indian Tribe’s efforts to build a gaming facility in South Medford are not receiving support at the state level.
Governor Tina Kotek has come out against the expansion of Native American gaming in a letter written to Oregon’s tribes.
The governor said her stance is in agreement with her two predecessors Kate Brown and John Kitzhaber, also both democrats.
Governor Kotek also pointed out that she is against the Coquille Tribe’s efforts to build a “Class 2” gaming facility in Medford.
The Coos Bay-based tribe has been working to build a gaming facility in south Medford for roughly a decade. It called the governor’s decision quote “hypocritical and discriminatory.”
The letter from the governor referenced each tribe getting one gaming facility on their reservation land. However, the Coquille Tribe said two other Oregon tribes have opened secondary gaming facilities that the tribe says the state supports.
The tribe has built a hotel in south Medford where they still hope to add a Class 2 gaming facility. It would replace Roxy Ann Lanes on Riverside Avenue.
As we have previously mentioned the final decision on approval of the gaming facility ultimately rests in the hands of the federal government.
The governor’s letter to Oregon tribes is below, followed by the Coquille Indian Tribe’s response:
Dear Tribal Chairs,
Thank you for your support and friendship as I have begun my new administration. I look forward to working with you to take on our state’s toughest challenges.
A topic of great interest to Tribes, legislators, and communities across our state is gaming. I recognize that Tribal gaming and State gaming are complex and multi-faceted enterprises that involve Tribal, federal, and state interests. My staff and I have benefitted immensely from an array of discussions about Tribal gaming interests, concerns, and suggestions.
The primary inquiry has been about my position or policy on gaming generally. More specifically, what is my position on past governors’ policies of one tribal gaming facility per tribe on reservation land?
Throughout my legislative career, during my campaign for this office, and since the start of my administration, 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.
There is also the Coquille Tribe’s application to the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs to have land in Medford taken into trust for the purpose of gaming (Class II). This proposal would not only lead to the expansion of gaming in that area but would create many more concerns about the expansion of gaming statewide. I agree with former Governor John Kitzhaber’s May 6, 2013 letter and former Governor Kate Brown’s April 13, 2016 letter to the BIA in opposition to this gaming proposal. With this letter, I wish to state my opposition to the Coquille Tribe’s Medford Casino Project.
I wanted to provide this clarification of my Tribal gaming policy so that Tribes, the federal government, and local entities know where I stand. This helps all of us avoid confusion, use of resources, and advocacy for and against changing my stance in favor of one gaming facility per tribe on reservation land.
I remain committed to working closely with Tribes, the federal government, state agencies, and our broader
communities to enhance Tribal affairs for the betterment of all our people.
Governor Tina Kotek
In response to Kotek’s position on tribal gaming, the Coquille Indian Tribe issued the following statement:
Gov. Tina Kotek’s opposition to tribal gaming growth is disappointing but not surprising to the Coquille Indian Tribe.
“We had hoped that this governor would respect federal law and the economic development rights of Indian tribes,” said tribal Chair Brenda Meade. “But it’s no surprise that the boss of Oregon’s biggest gaming enterprise wants to lock out competition.”
Kotek told Oregon tribes today that she will continue her two predecessors’ hypocritical and discriminatory campaign against tribal gaming development.
“Oregon’s governors consistently say they want to prevent proliferation of casinos, but the state is the biggest casino promoter in Oregon,” Meade said. “The Oregon Lottery’s growing video gaming empire is everywhere – grocery stores, bowling alleys, restaurants, Lottery parlors and now even on the Internet.”
Kotek specifically noted her opposition to the Coquille Tribe’s plans for a small “Class II” gaming facility in Medford. A Class II facility can offer electronic bingo on video machines, but no casino-style games.
Federal law and Oregon’s longstanding compact with the Coquille Tribe state plainly that Oregon has no authority over Class II gaming. Meade said opposing the Medford project is yet another attempt to negate government promises to tribes.
“Her position amounts to a hostile act against Oregon tribes and tribal sovereignty,” Meade said. “Opposing our economic development opportunities amounts to an attack on our ability to provide health care, housing, education, and Elder assistance to our people.”
In today’s announcement, Kotek joined former Govs. Kate Brown and John Kitzhaber in promoting a mythical “one-casino policy,” which purports to limit each Oregon tribe to a single casino.
Meade said the one-casino idea has no legal authority, and it has been applied selectively and erroneously.
“Two other Oregon tribes have opened secondary gaming facilities,” Meade said. “One of those is only three miles from our Mill Casino-Hotel in North Bend, and nobody has a problem with that. In fact, the state supports it.”
The tribe has pursued federal approval of the Medford project for more than 12 years, facing intense political opposition from previous governors as well as the Cow Creek Band, which operates the much larger Seven Feathers Resort Casino in Canyonville, 70 miles up the freeway.
The Coquille Tribe’s small Medford facility would help support the rising cost of programs and services for tribal families, while creating more than 200 local jobs. The facility would buy from local businesses, contribute substantially to Medford’s city budget, and support local nonprofits through a grant fund.
“Fair competition is good for consumers and good for the economy,” Meade said. “But this governor wants to pick winners and losers, by protecting the Lottery and a small number of wealthy, politically influential tribes.”
The tribe’s Medford proposal recently was the subject of an extended public comment period and an unprecedented two public hearings. A decision on the project is expected from the Bureau of Indian Affairs within the next few months.
“The governor has zero authority in this matter, and she should stay out of it,” Meade said.
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