Updated 

Group opposed to Station Casino project qualifies for California referendum


Station Casinos will have to wait a year to find out if it can help a California Indian tribe build a $350 million casino complex 25 miles north of Fresno.

An opposition group — which is financially backed by two competing Indian tribes — qualified a statewide ballot referendum for California’s November 2014 election that could kill the the planned North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians’ casino.

Stand Up for California opposes the North Fork casino because it would be located almost 40 miles away from the tribe’s original Madera County reservation land.

The casino, which is slated to be built on 60 acres near a major state highway and the town of Madera, has been approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown. The casino is still awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Cheryl Schmit, a spokeswoman for Stand Up for California, said in a statement the site of the North Fork casino “breaks the fundamental promise made to Californians” during the 2000 campaign that approved Proposition 1A, which legalized Indian gaming in the state. Casinos were expected to remain on tribal land.

“The compact sets the precedent of allowing reservation shopping and has already created a new gold rush of investors looking to build casinos off reservation land across the state,” Schmit said.

The 305-acre gaming site, which was approved through a rare federal process concerning nontribal land being taken into trust, was acquired by the North Fork tribe after 1988.

The opposition group also criticized Station Casinos, which signed a deal in 2003 to help finance, build and manage the project. The agreement still needs approval from the National Indian Gaming Commission.

“We are confident that Californians will reject this compact when they see that it is a great deal for Las Vegas investors, but a bad deal for the rest of us,” Schmit said.

Station Casinos declined comment, but provided a statement from North Fork Rancheria Tribal Chairperson Elaine Bethel-Fink, who blamed the fight on two competing tribes, the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians and the Table Mountain Rancheria, whose casinos would compete with new property.

According to California media outlets, nearly $3 million was put toward qualifying the referendum, including $1.4 million from the financial backers of Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino and $1.4 million from the Table Mountain Rancheria.

“Like many Californians, we’re disappointed that a couple of wealthy gaming tribes backed by Wall Street hedge funds would fund a cynical effort to undo 13 years of rigorous work by our tribe and Madera County leaders and the good, deliberate judgment of the State of California, Gov. Brown and the Legislature, all to gain a financial advantage by stopping competition,” Bethel-Fink said.

She said the North Fork tribe would work to defeat the ballot measure.

The project, which was to include 2,000 slot machines, table games and several entertainment and restaurant attractions, is on hold until the ballot measure is decided.

Earlier this month, Station Casinos opened the $800 million Graton Resort & Casino near Santa Rosa, Calif., for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Tribe. The property is located 45 minutes north of San Francisco.

Station Casinos operates the Gun Lake Casino near Grand Rapids, Mich., for the Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians.

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.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

 

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