The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians and two Northern California tribes have enlisted a Northern California congressman to help them block a proposed tribal casino near Madera.
The Chukchansi oppose the casino plan by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians because it is about 40 miles from its rancheria and not on ancestral homeland.
The Chukchansi were joined by leaders from the Mooretown and Colusa tribes, which oppose a casino proposed by the Enterprise tribe near Yuba City, about 30 miles from its ancestral lands near Oroville.
Chukchansi and the two affiliated tribes will get help from Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, to propose legislation, but it’s not clear what shape the legislation will take.
Congressman LaMalfa and a significant portion of the California delegation are communicating regularly and meeting regularly to look at every angle to address the issue.
Kevin Eastman, spokesman for Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville
“Congressman LaMalfa and a significant portion of the California delegation are communicating regularly and meeting regularly to look at every angle to address the issue,” said Kevin Eastman, LaMalfa’s legislative director.
Eastman said new gaming facilities will have a significant negative effect on tribes that already have gaming nearby.
But officials from North Fork said the Chukchansi effort to change federal law could backfire on tribes nationwide that want to open gaming venues.
“Every tribal leader across the nation should be deeply concerned about the principle being suggested by this effort, namely allowing the legislatures and citizens of all 50 states to weigh in on tribal rights, application of laws differently among tribes and that established federal gaming law … should be jeopardized to protect a few tribes from potential competition,” said Maryann McGovran, North Fork tribal chairwoman.
Prominent in the discussion Tuesday was Proposition 48, the state referendum that proposed stopping so-called “off-reservation gaming” and was backed by more than 60 percent of California voters in 2014.
Claudia Gonzales, Chukchansi tribal chairwoman, said opening the North Fork casino would ignore the will of California voters.
“If this new North Fork scheme goes through it will make tribal gaming a free-for-all in California,” she said. “Farmlands, urban centers and even open lots in neighborhoods could be considered as potential sites for new casinos, and the taxpayers of California will be virtually powerless to stop it.”
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 along Highway 99 near Avenue 18 just north of Madera, a facility similar to Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino near Coarsegold.
If this new North Fork scheme goes through it will make tribal gaming a free-for-all in California.
Claudia Gonzales, Chukchansi tribal chairwoman
Conspicuously absent from Tuesday’s teleconference to discuss the effort were representatives of Table Mountain Rancheria, the leading financial backers of Proposition 48. A tribal official declined comment after Chukchansi’s announcement.
A Chukchansi analysis shows that up to half of Chukchansi Gold’s gaming revenue could be in jeopardy if North Fork opens its Madera casino.
John Peebles, Chukchansi’s lawyer, said the tribe believes that when Californians voted in 2014, the vote effectively vetoed the compact, invalidated the governor’s approval and eliminated gaming as a use for the land. The tribe asserts that view in a lawsuit it filed earlier in March.
But others say the only thing at issue for the North Fork tribe in the referendum was that specific compact and that gaming can still take place on the land without a compact. If gaming occurs without a compact, local governments could be left without payments of about $5 million annually that were part of the original North Fork compact.
That casino will be built before you get a law passed.
Kenneth Hansen, Fresno State political science professor
Fresno State political science professor Kenneth Hansen said getting Congress to take action, especially in an election year, could mean a long wait.
“That casino will be built before you get a law passed,” said Hansen, coauthor of the book “The New Politics of Indian Gaming: The Rise of Reservation Interest Groups.”
In November, a U.S. District Court judge in Fresno ordered Gov. Jerry Brown and the North Fork tribe back into negotiations. In January, the judge ordered each side to present a compact to a mediator.
Unless congressional action occurs quickly, a new tribal compact likely will be approved in the next few months by state or federal officials. That would offer a green light for the North Fork tribe to proceed with its plan.