The federal Department of the Interior on Friday approved the gaming compact for the North Fork Mono Rancheria tribe’s casino north of Madera.
The plan is for the tribe to build a casino and hotel project with restaurants on land near Highway 99 and Avenue 18 in Madera County that’s being held in federal trust.
The Department of the Interior’s approval was announced by the tribe on its Facebook page late Friday afternoon.
“We’re very excited and pleased,” said Maryann McGovran, tribal chairwoman, “and proud of the perseverance and dedication it took to achieve this milestone.”
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Tribal officials, she said, were not expecting the federal government’s action.
“We were pushing for it, but we had no inkling that we would have it today,” she said Friday.
Federal officials could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
A federal lawsuit is still pending that could affect when construction on the casino can start, she said.
Several lawsuits are pending, but the most significant one, filed in late 2012 by opponents of the project, questions the federal government’s authority to put the off-reservation land into trust for the tribe’s casino project.
But McGovran said the tribe has “fulfilled the letter and spirit of the law.”
We were pushing for it, but we had no inkling that we would have it today.
Maryann McGovran, North Fork Mono tribal council chairwoman
The North Fork Rancheria and partner Station Casinos want to build a gaming complex with 2,000 slot machines, 40 table games and a hotel on 305 acres. The facility would be similar to Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino near Coarsegold on Highway 41.
After the first two years the casino can operate as many as 2,500 gaming machines, the tribe’s compact says.
The compact was opposed by the Chukchansi tribe, which has filed lawsuits trying to stop it and the casino project. Without the compact, a casino can’t be built, but gaming could still take place without slot machines.
In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown approved a compact with the North Fork tribe that included revenue sharing with other nongaming tribes, payments estimated at $3 million to $5 million annually to the Wiyot tribe near Humboldt Bay in Northern California in exchange for giving up their gaming ambitions, and payments to the Chukchansi tribe.
Under the compact, the Chukchansi tribe would get money from the North Fork tribe to compensate for casino revenue losses. Chukchansi officials say a study commissioned by the tribe shows that Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino would lose 38 percent of its revenue if the North Fork casino is built.
But two years later, California voters rejected the compact by voting down Proposition 48, a referendum backed by the Table Mountain and Chukchansi tribes as well as Chukchansi’s financial backers.
In November 2015, as the North Fork tribe tried to get its compact back on track, a federal judge ordered that it be sent to a mediator. In February, the mediator selected the tribe’s proposed compact over the governor’s.
The new compact doesn’t include payments to other tribes.
Brown didn’t ratify the compact supported by the mediator, which left approval up to the federal Department of the Interior.
The tribe’s estimates for revenue were about $54 million. Other estimates put revenue anywhere from $100 million to more than $200 million.
The tribe estimates the project will create 750 construction jobs and 1,500 casino jobs.
It’s not just the money they will donate to the county for fire service, the sheriff, roads and social services
Tom Wheeler, Madera County supervisor
Madera County government agencies were not affected by the new compact and will still get about $5 million annually to improve public services. Chukchansi is paying $1 million to the county for police services, $1.3 million for a large-laddered fire truck, and also pays into a fund for local nonprofits.
Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler said Friday he was happy for the North Fork tribe, which has worked 12 years to get to this point.
“It’s such a big deal to the county,” he said. “It’s not just the money they will donate to the county for fire service, the sheriff, roads and social services … there are the jobs, and they are higher-paid jobs.”
As for the pending lawsuits, Wheeler said he’s not concerned.
“We haven’t lost one of those lawsuits yet,” he said. “The Department of the Interior making this decision, I think, will really sway the judges. It’s just a stalling tactic.”