The Coquille Tribe owns and operates The Mill Casino in North Bay, Oregon. The tribe is seeking federal approval to open another facility in Medford. Photo: Rick Obst

Coquille Tribe questions governor's push to expand gaming options

The Coquille Tribe is wondering why Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), who is running for her first full term in office, wants to expand the state's gaming options.

Brown has opposed the tribe's efforts to open a modest Class II gaming facility. But she is exploring ways to expand the Oregon Lottery, The Washington Times reports.

“This is just another example of the governor’s hypocrisy on tribal gaming,” Coquille Chairperson Brenda Meade told The Times.

Meade further questioned Brown's decision to explore a partnership with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe, whose leadership has opposed the new Coquille casino. Documents shared with The Times indicate the Oregon Lottery wants to install scratch tickets, jackpot games and keno at a Cow Creek travel center.

“She preaches about opposing casino proliferation," Meade told The Times, referring to the governor. "Meanwhile, her administration is scheming to increase the money flowing to the lottery and her favorite tribe.”

The Oregon Lottery's 2018 – 2020 Strategic Plan indeed indicates plans to explore "tribal partnerships." But it does not contain the details that The Times was able to obtain about the Cow Creek Band's involvement.

“The Cow Creek travel center is essentially a case study to determine if a tribal partnership can be mutually beneficial,” a spokesperson for the governor told The Times. “Any model we would implement with Cow Creek would be available to the other tribes in Oregon.”

The Coquille Tribe has acknowledged that its new facility, which would only offer bingo and electronic forms of bingo, would impact other gaming facilities in Oregon and even in northern California. The economic impact data is being considered as part of the tribe's land-into-trust application.

The tribe began the land-into-trust process more than three years ago. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs hasn't taken significant action beyond a scoping report that was released in June 2015.

The Cedars at Bear Creek would be located in the city of Medford. The Cow Creek Band operates the Seven Feathers Casino Resort, a more lucrative Class III facility, in Canyonville, about an hour away.

According to data released in 2016, Seven Feathers would take a 13.2 percent hit in revenues once the Coquille facility opens.

Generally, land placed in trust after 1988 can't be used for gaming. The Coquilles, however, are seeking an exception in Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that applies to tribes that were restored to federal recognition.

The tribe gained recognition through the Coquille Restoration Act in 1989. The law requires the BIA to place up to 1,000 acres in trust.

The Cedars at Bear Creek site is about 170 miles from the Mill Casino, the tribe's Class III facility in North Bend.

Brown previously served as lieutenant governor of Oregon. She became governor in 2015, when John Kitzhaber stepped down amid conflict of interest and corruption allegations involving his spouse.

The Cow Creek Band has donated $85,000 to Brown since 2015, The Washington Times reports.

Read More on the Story
Oregon governor changes tune about Indian gambling after campaign contributions (The Washington Times October 28, 2018)

Federal Register Notice:
Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Coquille Indian Tribe Fee-to-Trust and Casino Project, City of Medford, Jackson County, Oregon (January 15, 2015)

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