Senate approves tribal casino in Madera

06/28/2013 12:00 AM

03/18/2014 10:45 AM

The Senate approved a controversial gambling compact Thursday to allow the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians to build a casino in Madera County.

The vote marked the final step in a lengthy and unconventional ratification process. The North Fork tribe had to seek approval from the federal government, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to build a casino 35 miles from their ancestral lands.

Allowing the tribe to choose this site sparked concern from legislators about setting a precedent of "reservation shopping." Competing tribal casinos also opposed the compact. Both sides, including Nevada-based Station Casinos, which would operate the North Fork facility, spent heavily on campaign contributions and lobbyists to make their case.

After a heated debate Thursday, the compact cleared the 40-member Senate with one vote to spare, 22-11.

Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, touted the economic benefits the casino would bring Madera County residents, tribe members and the state.

"This is not a vote to say will there or will there not be gaming on the site that North Fork has. There will be gaming," Wright said. "The only thing that you are voting on today is whether or not the state will get any benefits from the gaming."

The compact also includes a revenue sharing agreement with the Wiyot tribe in Humboldt County.

Wright said there are talks for possible revenue sharing between the North Fork tribe and nearby Chukchansi tribe, which has opposed the casino.

The Chukchansi own a casino in the foothills east of the North Fork site, and tribal leaders worry the competition will hurt their business.

"All parties feel comfortable with where the discussions are going," said David Quintana, a lobbyist representing the Chukchansi. "If North Fork did open without any sort of mitigation, the Chukchansi would end up closing their doors within a year and a half."

Charles Banks-Altekruse, a spokesman for the North Fork tribe, said the revenue from the casino will also benefit up to 70 tribes without casinos.

Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, who supported the North Fork, said he hoped legislators and stakeholders could find a more streamlined process for confirming future off-reservation casinos.

The Enterprise Rancheria, part of the Maidu tribe seeking an off-reservation casino site in Marysville, also needs the Legislature to ratify its compact.

"We cannot piecemeal our way continuously and we cannot be caught in the cross hairs of so many interests," de León said.

Call Annalise Mantz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5545.

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