More than 800,000 signatures were turned in Tuesday to county registrars across the state, well in excess of the 504,760 needed to place a referendum on the November 2014 ballot, giving voters of the state the opportunity to vote yes or no on the revenue sharing agreement between the state and the Mono Indians of North Fork from the tribe's proposed casino on Highway 99.
The controversial gaming compact, AB 277, signed by Governor Brown and narrowly approved by the Sacramento Legislature, would allow the North Fork Rancheria to partner with Las Vegas based Station Casino to build a 50 table, 2,000-slot machine casino near Madera.
Opponents of the casino near Madera feel the compact is in direct contrast to what voters approved in 2000 with the passage of Prop 1A, which allows for Indian gaming to take place only on a tribe's originally restored Indian lands.
If signatures are verified, the referendum would be placed on the November 2014 ballot giving voters the right to decide if they agree with the Sacramento decision makers to allow an off reservation casino.
Cheryl Schmit, the Director of Stand Up for California, a watchdog organization committed to ensuring that Indian gaming stays on Indian lands, explained, "When California voters approved Proposition 1A in 2000, they were specifically promised that casinos would be limited to originally restored Indian land and not permitted in neighborhoods and urban areas. Alarmingly, the Legislature recently approved this gaming agreement for the North Fork tribe, which has land eligible for gaming in the Sierra Mountains, but was recruited by Las Vegas-based casino operator Station Casinos for a more lucrative casino location right off Highway 99 in the Central Valley. This referendum is about upholding the will of California voters and giving voters, not elected officials, the choice to make such a dramatic change in California's Indian gaming policy."
Madera County Supervisor David Rogers, who represents the area where the casino would be built, is against the project.
"As the county supervisor representing the community where this off-reservation casino could be built, it is clear that my constituents have not been fooled by the claims of jobs and prosperity<" Rogers said in a prepared statement. "The record proves that this off-reservation project will actually damage businesses and the local community and I hope that Californians will join me in recognizing that this is a bad deal."
Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League weighed in as well and said, "We are supportive of efforts to create good paying jobs in the Valley, but approving a Las Vegas style casino on farmland and cattle ranges in the heart of the top agricultural area in the United States is just wrong. The impacts of this casino project will have a profound negative impact on this entire region."
Qualifying this referendum will put the compact on hold until the voters have their say next November.
"The next step for our campaign will to be to galvanize opposition to reservation shopping across California," Schmit continued. "New reservation shopping gaming projects are continuing to emerge. By rejecting this compact we can send a strong message that Indian gaming should remain on tribal land."
With the delivery of these signatures, counties will begin their raw count and report their findings to the Secretary of State.
Proponents, including the majority of the Madera County Board of Supervisors, chamber of commerce officials and union leaders, say the development is needed for the financial vitality of Madera County and Central California.