After nearly a decade of debate, a central California Indian casino project backed by Station Casinos moved a step closer last week toward actual development activities.
A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown allows the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to move forward with the planned $350 million project near a major state highway and the city of Madera, about 25 miles north of Fresno.
The 305-acre gaming site, which was approved through a rare federal process concerning nontribal land being taken into trust, had been opposed by rival tribes. The land was acquired by the North Fork tribe after 1988.
Station Casinos signed a deal with the tribe in 2003 to help finance, develop and manage the project.
The North Fork compact with California still needs approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Station Casinos management deal requires a sign-off from the National Indian Gaming Commission.
Station Casinos Chief Development Officer Scott Nielson said the company can now begin its design process for the casino, which is expected to include 2,000 slot machines, table games and several entertainment and restaurant attractions. The project is expected to utilize about 60 acres of the site.
“We know from experience that these projects take time to materialize,” Nielson said. “You have to have patience.”
He said the development will be built in phases. The initial construction would not include a hotel.
Station Casinos operates the Gun Lake Casino near Grand Rapids, Mich., for the Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians and is building the $800 million Graton Resort & Casino near Santa Rosa, Calif., for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Tribe. The project is expected to open in November.
Station Casinos had one of the gaming industry’s first development deals with a California Indian tribe when the company opened Thunder Valley near Sacramento, Calif., for the Auburn Tribe in 2003. The management contract expired in 2010.
In 2011, California’s 68 Indian casinos collected $6.91 billion in gaming revenues — one quarter of the nation’s total for tribal gaming, according to Casino City’s Indian Gaming Industry Report.
In April, Penn National Gaming announced plans to build a $360 million hotel-casino for the Jamul Indian Village of San Diego.
Nielson speculated the North Fork project might be one of the last major Indian gaming developments to be built in California that would involve nontribal land taken into trust.
He didn’t see any other potential Indian gaming deals for the company.
“I think it’s going to be slim pickings,” Nielson said.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.