Coquille tribe alters push to put casino in Medford

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MEDFORD, Ore. — Taken aback by opposition, the Coquille Indian Tribe has revamped its campaign for a $26 million casino in Medford.

The tribe engaged a former speaker of the Oregon House as a spokesman, hired consultants who have a history with Medford decision-makers, and created glossy brochures extolling the idea and addressing criticisms leveled at it.

The new campaign includes letters from officials in North Bend and Coos Bay to counterparts in Medford praising the casino proposal. The tribe has a casino in North Bend wants another in Medford.

The idea has opposition in Medford and from the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, which operates a casino about 70 miles to the north on Interstate 5. Gov. John Kitzhaber has criticized it as violating his policy of one casino per Oregon tribe.

The tribe was caught off guard by negative reaction from Medford and Jackson County officials, project manager Judy Metcalf said.

The tribe asked the federal government to put Medford property into trust status. It contains a bowling alley that would become a casino. The tribe plans to lease a nearby golf course.

The tribe's campaign focuses on jobs. According to the tribe, annual wages at the casino would average $41,416, which would be 18 percent higher than the average wage reported by the state Employment Department for Jackson County.

"It's really a surprise to us that the city would be opposed to 233 new jobs," said Larry Campbell, a Republican former speaker of the Oregon House who stepped out of retirement to work for the tribe.

The Coquille tribe also disputes the one-casino-per-tribe argument.

The nine tribal casinos in Oregon are called "Class III" casinos because they have table games. The Coquille proposal is for one more modest, called "Class II" because of its video gambling machines.

The Coquilles cite the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, saying it has a Class III casino as well as a Kah-Nee-Tah Resort, which features Class II games. The resort has 30 video games compared to more than 500 proposed at the Medford facility.

Susan Ferris, spokeswoman for the Cow Creek tribe, stood by the tribe's earlier fear of a casino war.

"If all of a sudden one tribe has more than one casino, why wouldn't other tribes think they would be similarly entitled?" she said. "It defies logic."