California referendum looms over controversial casino pact

09/27/2013 8:08 PM

09/28/2013 12:21 AM

With a referendum looming over the California Legislature’s approval of a controversial Indian casino in Madera County, Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that casino opponents are setting a bad precedent in what is likely to be a multimillion-dollar fight between casino interests.

“I think this is a dispute about money, mostly, money and competition,” Brown told reporters after addressing tribal leaders at the Capitol.

At issue is the Legislature’s approval this year of a casino for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians along Highway 99, more than 35 miles from the village where tribal members live. Opponents of the casino, including New York-based financial interests and Table Mountain Rancheria, which operates a casino near the North Fork site, have raised nearly $1.7 million to support a referendum.

Andrew Acosta, a political consultant working on the campaign, said the group will submit signatures Tuesday to qualify the measure for the November 2014 ballot. Casino opponents say it will set a precedent for other “off-reservation” projects in California, and Acosta said voters should be allowed to weigh in.

Supporters of the North Fork project have said members of the tribe historically migrated between the casino land and village areas.

Brown said he expects an expensive campaign. “It’s unfortunate that tens of millions of dollars will now go to fight over this,” he said.

Brown’s remarks followed an appearance at a gathering of tribal leaders, a group with which the Democratic governor has enjoyed a favorable relationship since he was governor before. In the negotiation of gambling compacts in recent years he has been more accommodating of tribal interests than his predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When he thanked Brown for attending the event, Nicholas Fonseca, chairman of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, said the “last guy was not so great.”

Tribes donated $925,000 to Brown’s gubernatorial effort in 2010 and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars more to his initiative to raise taxes last year. Tribes have donated more than $300,000 so far to Brown’s campaign for re-election, and they have poured $125,000 this year into charitable causes at his behest.

In his remarks at the event, Brown made a passing reference to the referendum.

“We’re always going to have our battles,” he said, adding that historically speaking, “they’re relatively small, I think.”

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