Opponents file referendum to block Madera County casino

The Sacramento BeeJuly 9, 2013 

Opponents of a Madera County Indian casino have lost with the Legislature but are hoping they can win with California voters.

Cheryl Schmit, director of the gambling watchdog group Stand Up for California, filed a referendum with the Attorney General's Office on Tuesday that seeks to reverse lawmakers' approval of a casino for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. The casino is more controversial than most in Indian country because it would be built along Highway 99, more than 35 miles from where tribal members live outside North Fork.

Opponents consider the project an "off reservation" casino, and say approval will set a precedent for similar developments around the state near freeways and urban communities. Supporters say the North Fork tribe historically migrated between the casino land on the Valley floor and the tribe's current home in the foothills of eastern Madera County, and that few other tribes have a similar situation.

Gov. Jerry Brown supports the project as an economic development opportunity for the impoverished tribe, and labor unions lobbied hard for it. Many other gambling tribes oppose the casino because it would create competition for their business.

Lawmakers narrowly ratified the North Fork compact last month and the governor signed it last week.

For Schmit's referendum overturning the compact to reach the 2014 ballot, her group must gather 504,760 voter signatures in 90 days.

This story was first reported on The Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert. For the latest on California politics and government, click here.

The reporter can be reached at (916) 321-1083, lrosenhall@sacbee.com or @laurelrosenhall on Twitter.

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