About 800,000 signatures were turned in Tuesday to county elections offices across California in support of a ballot measure to stop American Indian casinos that the group says are outside of traditional Indian lands.
Opponents to a tribal compact approved earlier this year by the state Legislature for a North Fork Mono Indians casino near Madera said they have enough signatures to place a referendum on the statewide ballot next year.
The referendum, backed by Stand Up For California, specifically targets a proposal by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians for a 305-acre resort and casino 36 miles west of its rancheria. The federal government and Gov. Jerry Brown approved the compact to allow construction of a 50-table, 2,000-slot project north of Madera that will be built by Station Casinos.
A second tribal casino project also is targeted near Marysville, but it has not received the Legislature's backing.
The state Legislature's action was the last step before federal officials are asked to re-affirm the compact early next year.
Opponents claim that voters 13 years ago approved passage of Proposition 1-A, which allows Indian gaming only on a tribe's originally restored lands.
"A precedent is being set that allows tribes throughout the state to basically do the same thing, find loopholes in the process," said pastor Randy Brannon, a representative of the Madera Ministerial Association, which opposes the casino.
He said the tribe went searching for land that had the most financial potential before selecting the site along Highway 99 near Avenue 18.
North Fork Mono Indians say the land near Madera was traditional land and that was supported by state and federal officials, said tribe spokesman Charles Altekruse. They also contend that their rancheria, which has 61 acres for housing, is too small for a casino.
Under the compact with the North Fork tribe, Madera County will get about $4.4 million in annual revenue from the casino. That money will improve public safety services, county officials say.
It's been supported by all supervisors except David Rogers, who says the casino will have significant effects on local businesses such as restaurants, which will not be able to meet lower prices of a casino subsidized by gambling profits.
"This is not parity," he said. "We are undoing our own local people."
But Supervisor Tom Wheeler said the North Fork project was approved after nearly 10 years of federal, state and local review.
"This tribe has followed every rule and requirement and deserves to move forward," he said. "Madera County is in desperate need of jobs, vendor business, public funding and economic benefits that the North Fork project will bring."
Revenue from the project is estimated to be about $100 million per year, he said.
The compact will not only fund Madera County programs, but a portion of its receipts also will get paid to the Wiyot tribe in environmentally sensitive Humboldt Bay so they will not build a casino.
The Chukchansi tribe also will get money to make up for casino revenue losses. But Chukchansi officials oppose the North Fork project. They say a study commissioned by the tribe shows that Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino would lose 38% of its revenue if the Madera-area casino is built.
So far, money is being raised by opponents, Keep Vegas-Style Casinos Out of Neighborhoods. Donations exceed $1.65 million through the Sept. 16 reporting period, with about half coming from Table Mountain Rancheria near Friant and more than $600,000 from Brigade Capital Management, which was involved in the restructuring of financing for Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino.
No money has been raised for a North Fork Rancheria-affiliated campaign fund.
Statewide 504,760 signatures were required to place the measure on the ballot next November. Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings counties accounted for about 36,000 signatures, local elections officials said Tuesday. The signatures must be verified by county elections offices, a process expected to be completed in mid-January.
Lawsuits also are challenging the actions of the federal government and Brown in state and federal courts.