Two Northern California tribes along with the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians have enlisted the help of a Northern California congressman to assist them in blocking a proposed off-reservation tribal casino near Madera.
The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians’ Fire Mountain Casino plan is opposed by the Chukchansi because it is not on ancestral ground and it is approximately 40 miles from its rancheria. Leaders from the Colusa and Mooretown tribes, which are opposed to the Enterprise tribe’s casino proposal near Yuba City, approximately 30 miles from its ancestral grounds near Oroville, joined the Chukchansi. The two affiliated tribes and the Chukchansi chose Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville to assist them in proposing legislation. However, just what shape the legislation will take is unknown.
Kevin Eastman, LaMalfa’s legislative director, said, “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,” according to The Fresno Bee. Eastman said tribes that already have gaming in close proximity will experience a significant negative effect from new gaming facilities. However, North Fork officials said the effort by the Chukchansi to change federal law could have repercussions for tribes nationwide that wish to open gaming venues. North Fork tribal chairwoman, Maryann McGovran, said, “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.”
The majority of Tuesday’s discussion was centered on Proposition 48, the state referendum that rejected the North Fork compact in 2014 by 61 percent of California voters. The Compact would have allowed a facility similar to Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino near Coarsegold at a 305-acre site just north of Madera almost 50 miles away from the North Fork Reservation. Along with partner Station Casinos, the North Fork Rancheria want to build a gaming complex with 40 table games, 2,000 slot machines, and a hotel there along Highway 99 near Avenue 18.
Chukchansi tribal chairwoman, Claudia Gonzales, said opening the North Fork casino would ignore the wishes of California voters. Gonzales said that if the North Fork scheme is successful, California taxpayers would be powerless to stop tribal casinos from going up anywhere in the state. An analysis done by the Chukchansi indicates that as much as half of Chukchansi Gold’s gaming revenue could be jeopardized by the North Fork Madera casino. Chukchansi’s lawyer, John Peebles, said the tribe believes that the 2014 vote effectively vetoed the compact, thereby invalidating Governor Jerry Brown’s approval and eliminating gaming as a use for the land. The tribe asserts that view in the March 18 lawsuit filed in Madera County Superior Court.
In November, a U.S. District Court judge in Fresno ordered the North Fork tribe and Gov. Jerry Brown to return to negotiations. Then both sides were ordered by the judge, in January, to present a compact to a mediator.
Without quick action from Congress, it’s likely that a new tribal compact will be approved within the next few months by federal or state officials. That would give the North Fork tribe the nod to proceed with its casino plan.