A self-proclaimed gambling watchdog group, Stand Up for California, filed a referendum July 9 seeking to reverse the Legislature's approval of the North Fork Rancheria Mono Indians' proposed casino near Highway 99, north of Madera.
The state Assembly and Senate ratified AB 277, the state/tribe 20-year compact that details revenue sharing from the proposed casino profits and Gov. Jerry Brown gave his approval July 3.
Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up for California, has been vocal against the "off-reservation" project, and wants the issue decided by the voters of California.
Schmit has previously stated that the approval for the project would set a precedent for similar developments around the state near freeways and urban communities.
"Our argument has always been that the North Fork proposal was contrary to the promises of Proposition 1A that the citizens of California voted on," Schmit said.
Other tribe's with casinos, including the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, have opposed the project because it would create competition for their business and have a negative effect on their revenue.
"It is my hope that the voters across the state will give us a victory where state government did not," Schmit said. "Stand Up for California is not anti-gambling. We are concerned about off-reservation gaming, which this is."
Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler said the project deserves to move forward without any further delays.
"The North Fork Rancheria's casino project has undergone a decade of exhaustive review by federal, state, and local officials," Wheeler said. "This tribe has followed every rule and obligation and deserves to move forward with their project. Our county is in desperate need of the jobs, vendor business, public funding, and economic push that the North Fork project will bring to our region."
The referendum filing is with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has until this Friday to issue a "title and summary" of AB 277.
When that is issued, Schmit and her organization will have 90 days to obtain the 504,760 signatures necessary to get the referendum on the 2014 ballot.
If the required signatures are obtained, the referendum will be put to California voters in November, 2014, and construction of the casino would be delayed until after the election.
Schmit said she feels gathering the required signatures is very doable even in the limited time space.
"Citizens from Madera and Fresno counties have been calling and emailing, asking where they can find and sign the petition," Schmit said Monday. "Others in Madera have volunteered to hold petition signing parties in their homes and churches."
Schmit said petitions will be circulated state-wide since the "off-reservation" casino has always been a statewide issue, and petitions should be available in Madera County sometime next week, although locations have yet to be decided.
Charles Altekruse, director of community relations for the North Fork Rancheria, said the tribe is disappointed by the actions of Stand Up for California.
"We are evaluating our options and will respond accordingly at the appropriate time," Altekruse said.
The combined approvals by the Assembly, the Senate and the governor, gave the North Fork tribe the state's blessing to build a casino with 2,000 slot machines on a 305-acre site west of 99 and Ave.17, about 35 miles away from the tribe's reservation in North Fork.
The U.S. Interior Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs, still must certify that the compact follows all federal rules that have to do with tribal gaming. That approval is expected by late August or early September.
Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary of the interior for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, approved the casino and historically tied the land to the tribe in 2011.
Schmit said that the Mono tribe should instead build the casino on its 80-acre parcel in the Madera County foothills, and accused the tribe of catering to investors in picking the flat land location.
"They have an established rancheria in North Fork and you would see no opposition from our organization if they were to propose the casino on that established Indian land Their investors wanted a marketable location on a highway. This is about their investors ... it's not about North Fork," Schmit said.
Proponents of the casino argue, however, that the land in question has been tied to the tribe and thus it is not "reservation shopping," a term used by critics to describe tribes building casinos off their traditional reservation land.
Schmit said Stand Up for California also has a pending lawsuit against Gov. Brown, challenging his authority to grant the project. The challenge was scheduled to be heard Tuesday in Madera County Superior Court.