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Coquille Tribe’s long bet on contentious new casino may still pay off

Bureau Of Indian Affairs
The Coquille Indian Tribe wants to turn property they own in Medford, currently a bowling alley, into a new casino.

The Coquille Indian Tribe has been trying to open a new casino in Medford for over ten years. After hitting bumps along the way — including a hard 'no' from the feds in 2020 — the project is again moving forward. Among its most vociferous critics: other regional tribes.

The Coquille Indian Tribe’s proposed new casino in Medford, although located on land they own, is over 150 miles from their reservation near the Oregon Coast.

To build the casino, and collect its gaming revenue, the tribe needs to put the land under federal trust.

The Department of Interior rejected that plan in 2020. But the Biden administration is moving forward with an environmental assessment, the results of which are expected soon.

Russell Attebery, chairman of Northern California’s Karuk Tribe, has joined other tribal leaders as well as senators from Oregon and California in opposing the casino.

He says it would cut into his tribe’s gaming revenue and lead to less money for public services. He also warned that the precedent could spread harmful competition between tribes.

“To open the door to reservation jump and open casinos that are not [in] their homelands could be devastating to Indian country,” said Attebery.

Ray Doering, who works with the Coquille Indian Tribe on economic development, says criticism of their proposal comes from a fear of competition.

“They have a market all to themselves. They've had a monopoly for a long time. And they don't want to lose that monopoly. And they don't want to have to face the competition,” said Doering.

Assuming a favorable environmental assessment, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will have a public comment period before making a final decision.

Justin Higginbottom is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. He's worked in print and radio journalism in Utah as well as abroad with stints in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. He spent a year reporting on the Myanmar civil war and has contributed to NPR, CNBC and Deutsche Welle (Germany’s public media organization).