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Medford council hears debate over tribal casino

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MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — A proposal to turn a Medford bowling alley and restaurant into a tribal casino has drawn opposition at a public hearing and spotlighted a division between two tribes.

The City Council held a public hearing on the proposal Thursday but isn't expected to take a stand until later.

Decisions by the state and federal governments will be critical to the chances for the Coquille Indian Tribe to open what would be its second Oregon casino.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has yet to weigh in on the Coquille proposal but has said an agreement would limit tribes to one casino each. The Coquille tribe has a casino along the coast at North Bend, one of nine tribal casinos in Oregon.

The Coquille proposal has drawn opposition from the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, which attracts Medford residents to its casino 70 miles north along Interstate 5.

The Cow Creek tribe has "ancient rights to this area as well as a modern presence," Chairman Dan Courtney told the Medford council.

Several residents called foul over the proposed gambling business, but a Medford resident who had worked at the Coquille tribe's Mill Casino said a second one in Medford should be approved, the Medford Mail Tribune (http://bit.ly/12uSygP) reported.

"I welcome the Coquille tribe to my community and neighborhood," said Sara Koca. "I know they will be contributors to the economy and overall well-being of this valley."

Some people at the hearing said they were just trying to get informed. Paul Pigue of Central Point said he is "emotionally" opposed to the casino but wants to hear the arguments. "I'm willing to be convinced that the casino is OK," he said.

The Coquille tribe contends that it has historic roots in the Medford market, and there is no formal agreement to limit tribes to one casino.

The tribe has asked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to put the 2.4 acres it now owns in south Medford in a government trust, beginning a process that could lead to reservation status.

The tribe has also asked federal officials for an exception to a prohibition against gambling on lands acquired after October 1988.

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Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/

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