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As It Was: Slot Machines Create 1800s Controversy in Southern Oregon

Southern Oregon gold miners often gathered after work in saloons to drink and gamble.  Risk takers by nature, the miners couldn’t resist trying to beat the odds.

In the late 1800s, newspapers editorialized against the evils of gambling, and Medford and Ashland passed ordinances restricting it.  The two towns found themselves on opposite sides of the issue with the advent of slot machines at the turn of the century.  When the State of Oregon banned slot machines in 1899, Ashland enforced the state law, but Medford allowed the one-armed bandits to stay.  The Jackson County sheriff intervened, removing slot machines from Medford’s saloons, cigar shops and pool halls. 

The Ashland Tidings praised the sheriff for enforcing state law, while the Medford Mail Tribune lamented, in these words, “No more will the merry click of the slot machines sound on cigar counters…” The Mail Tribune also argued for the city’s right to regulate gambling, stating that the local charter superseded state law.  In the end, state law won, and Medford’s slots were removed.

Present-day Medford and Ashland could confront the issue again, as Indian tribes seek land recognition near both cities.

Sources: Gary, Josh. "Southern Oregon's Slot Machines." Southern Oregon Heritage Today, vol. 4, no. 7, July 2002, pp. 8-11; Nguyen, Tran. "Tribal Bill Won't Open Way for Ashland Casino." Mail Tribune, www.mailtribune.com/news/20180409/tribal-bill-won't-open-way-for-Ashland-Casino. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018; "Everyone Wins." The Cedars at Bear Creek, Coquille Indian Tribe, 2018, www.medfordwins.com/everyone-wins. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.