The Biden administration is preparing to move forward with a plan to allow a tribe in the Pacific Northwest to build a second casino off its land, a move strongly opposed by other tribes and Democrats in the region.
The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is expected to issue a final environmental impact statement (EIS) that could give the green light to the Oregon-based Coquille Indian Tribe’s proposal to develop and operate an off-territory casino in Medford, Oregon. As soon as this week, people familiar with the federal review process told Fox News Digital.
The BIA released its draft EIS in November 2022 for the proposal and the public comment period on the measure continued until late February. A wide range of voices, including many regional tribes, tribes nationwide and lawmakers from both parties, criticized the draft EIS that recommended the federal government approve Coquille’s move to build an off-reservation casino, called Cedars at Bears Creek.
“The Coquille Indian Tribe’s request to transfer land fees in Medford, Oregon, to a gaming trust using the restored lands exception directly threatens the sovereign rights of tribal governments to operate gaming on their lands,” the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, which represents 13 tribal nations in California, wrote. to BIA Assistant Secretary Brian Newland earlier this month.
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In a similar letter to Newland, the Indian Gaming Association of California Nations, which represents dozens of federally recognized tribal governments on gaming-related issues, similarly argued that finalizing the draft EIS would threaten the “sovereign rights” of its members as tribes.
The question of whether to approve a Coquille casino has been hotly contested since the tribe first proposed the plan about a decade ago. The plan was proposed under an Obama administration policy that eased restrictions on gaming and land tenure, a measure that critics have expressed concern the Biden administration is doubling down on.
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But opponents of the Cedars at Bear Creek proposal — including the California Indian Gaming Association, the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, other tribes and lawmakers — have privately argued that developing the project would infringe on the rights of other neighboring tribes and have the effect of reducing their gaming revenues. .
They also said the move would set a dangerous precedent as tribes would be able to build marine gaming venues on or near other tribes’ lands and reap the financial benefits. Coquille already operates the Mill Casino in North Bend, Oregon, and the Cedars at Bear Creek Casino will be the first off-reservation casino in Oregon.
“The bottom line is that if the Coquille Tribe is allowed to build another casino in Oregon, it will likely lead to full-scale gaming conflicts between the Oregon and California tribes,” said Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of Oregon. Last year, California wrote to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
“It would also have a detrimental impact on tribes in Oregon and California that depend on income generated by their gaming facilities and use those funds to provide vital government services,” they continued. “This will have negative consequences in many of our communities if Oregon and California’s carefully crafted balance between gambling revenue production and an overall focus on the greater good of our citizens is seriously jeopardized by the Department of the Interior’s approval of a second casino for the Coquille Tribe.”
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Oregon Democratic Gov. Tina Kotick and Reps. Susan Bonamici, D-Ore., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Cliff Bentz, R-Ore., and Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif. They also opposed the new Cedars at Bear Creek Casino.
In addition, a broad coalition of tribes in the region, led by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, whose territory is located near the proposed casino site, including the Karuk, Tulua-de-Ne, Smith River, and Klamath tribes, appealed to the federal government to reject the proposal. . Cow Creek noted Coquille’s own estimates showing that Cow Creek’s Seven Feathers Casino Resort would suffer a 25% decline in gaming revenue if Cedars at Bear Creek was built.
“I want to emphasize the profound impact a second Coquille Casino will have on my tribe and my people,” Cow Creek President Carla Kane said during a public hearing hosted by the BIA late last year. “It will impact the essential government services the tribe provides. It will impact our education program. It will impact our ability to provide the health care and social services that many of our members depend on.”
“If it is approved, and the doors open, it will open the door to more casinos in the state by this tribe,” added Michael Rondo, CEO of Cow Creek. “Other tribes don’t have that ability to open second casinos. The casino is located 150 miles from their reservation.”
The proposal is “wrong,” said Stephen Dow Peckham, a Native American history expert and chair of the history department at Lewis and Clark College at Oregon State University, during a second public hearing in January 2023.
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“I have never seen a more obvious and blatant case of reservation shopping than the Coquille Tribe’s proposal to reach 168 miles from North Bend, Oregon, to the Rogue River Tribes’ treaty ceding area to try to justify a second casino and entertainment ‘venue,'” Beckham commented at the time.
He continued: “The Coquill tribe was not an indigenous tribe in the Rogue River Valley. They lived on the Oregon coast. This project will have detrimental effects on neighboring tribes.” “The effects of the Coquille Casino will undermine service delivery to the Karuk, Klamath, Tolowa, Smith River and Cow Creek peoples; all so another tribe from North Bend, Oregon, can get a second casino and hotel.”
Last week, he wrote to Atteberry, the chief of the Karuk tribe in California; Jeff Grubb, former chief of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in California; Marshall Perrette, Chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe in Louisiana, wrote an op-ed calling on President Biden to reject the proposed casino and “stop this policy that will cause casino gaming to spread nationwide without any limits, harming historically marginalized Indigenous populations.” “The hardest people.”
They noted that rejecting the proposal would be a goodwill gesture from the administration ahead of the upcoming tribal nations summit at the White House in early December.
“As a restored tribal nation, we know the challenges associated with assembling our homelands,” Perrett, of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe, told Fox News Digital. “Where we come from and where we belong still matters.”
“Efforts to seize federal Indian lands must respect the ancestral relationship that links our tribal nations to our homelands,” he continued. “DOI’s career bureaucrats appear to be moving away from that understanding. The White House has an opportunity to make a correction before the Tribal Nations Summit next month.”
In a social media post on Friday, Wyden shared an op-ed by Perrett and other tribal leaders and said the Biden administration “must reaffirm its commitment to tribal communities and how the misguided politics at the root of the Medford casino proposal are hurting tribes around the world.” nation.”
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However, according to a draft EIS released by the BIA last year, the Coquille Tribe and its citizens have struggled financially for years due to changing demographics of the Oregon Coast, an economic recession, a growing population in need of tribal services and persistent high inflation. The agency said revenues from the tribe’s only casino are now insufficient to meet the tribe’s needs.
Under the plan, if Cedars at Bear Creek is established, Coquille would be able to divert the revenue generated to support existing tribal programs and help fund new initiatives “critical to meeting the needs of growing and changing tribal members,” all of which would preserve “the tribe’s right to In self-determination and self-sufficiency.
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“The failure of economic development efforts in the area has led to the exodus of job seekers from the community, contributing to a declining population and diminished financial prospects,” the draft environmental impact statement said. “This situation has been further exacerbated with the addition of tribal gaming competition within Mill Casino’s limited local market, along with increased costs, including those associated with the future impacts of Oregon’s minimum wage law.”
“Based on the reasons behind Mill Casino’s declining revenue trend, Mill Casino, with its current constraints, is unlikely to see revenue growth in the foreseeable future,” she continued.
Once the BIA issues its final Environmental Impact Report (EIS), another public comment period will begin, after which the agency will release the final record of its decision.
The BIA and the Coquille Tribe did not respond to requests for comment.