MEDFORD, Ore. — Gov. John Kitzhaber's attempts to limit Oregon casinos to one per tribe are getting a test from a video gambling establishment the Coquille Indian Tribe proposes in Medford.
Although Kitzhaber has opposed an expansion beyond the nine tribal casinos currently in operation, the Coquille tribe said it never agreed to a permanent provision limiting it to the one it has in North Bend along the Oregon coast.
And, the Medford Mail Tribune reported, the compact the Coquille tribe signed with the state in 2000 doesn't prohibit the sort of video-only operation planned for a bowling alley in Medford.
Federal regulations categorize casinos with table games such as craps, roulette and blackjack as Class III. More modest operations with video games fall into a Class II category.
The Coquille compact explicitly said it did not cover Class II operations, the Mail Tribune reported, and the limit to one Class III casino lasted five years. The federal government requires the gambling compacts between tribes and states.
In a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs on May 6 that reiterated his policy of one casino per tribe, Kitzhaber said he understood the distinction between the two classes of casinos but argued that opening a video-only operation would open the door to an operation with table games.
He said he continued his policy, dating to the 1990s and his first two terms in office, that there should be one casino per tribe in Oregon.
The requirements for Class II gambling operations are less difficult to meet and don't include a compact with the state, said Coquille tribal spokesman Ray Doering.
"We just felt it worked better as Class II," he said. "It is less of an investment."
Another opponent of the Medford proposal is the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians, which has a casino about 70 miles north of Medford along Interstate 5.
Spokeswoman Susan Ferris said her tribe signed the first compact with the state to operate a Class III casino, on Nov. 20, 1992. She said the Cow Creek was one of three tribes that signed compacts restricting them to one Class III facility with no time limit — the two other being the Warm Springs and Grand Ronde tribes.
Ferris argues that the technology of video gambling has improved markedly, blurring the distinction between the two different categories of gambling establishments.