A federal judge has ordered Gov. Jerry Brown to return to discussions with the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians on a Madera-area casino, saying the governor acted in “bad faith” by halting negotiations with the tribe earlier this year.
The Rancheria’s gaming compact, approved by the Madera County Board of Supervisors, Governor and Legislature after 11 years of work, was rejected by state voters through Proposition 48 in November.
Brown told the tribe in January it would be “futile” to discuss the compact any further.
In a 23-page ruling issued Friday, Nov. 13, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony W. Ishii noted federal laws require the governor to negotiate with the tribe within 60 days. Without any agreements, a mediator will be appointed by the judge, followed by further talks before the mediator reaches a decision.
“The North Fork Rancheria is obviously pleased with the U.S. District Court’s ruling and believes it represents another important step forward in our ability to bring jobs and economic opportunity to the region,” tribal chair Maryann McGovran said in a prepared statement.
The casino was planned for a 305-acre site just north of the Madera Municipal Airport, near Highway 99 and Avenue 17, with 2,000 slot machines 40 gaming tables, and a hotel. As designed, it would be similar in size to Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino.
The 305 acres are in federal trust for the tribe.
Table Mountain Rancheria in Friant, and the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians in Coarsegold, both opposed the North Fork tribe’s casino. Table Mountain spent about $11 million on Proposition 48, the Fresno Bee reported in April, with other tribes including Chukchansi, and its bondholders, adding millions more.
The Mono tribe’s gaming compact would have provided revenue to Chukchansi to make up for losses due to new competition.
Ishii concluded in his ruling “that competition alone is insufficient to determine that construction of the facility would result in a detrimental impact to the Picayune tribe.”
The compact would have provided $5 million total annually to Madera County and the cities of Madera and Chowchilla, given additional millions of dollars to projects like water conservation or public safety, and provided around 1,400 jobs when fully built.
The compact would have also sent money to the Wiyot tribe near Eureka, in exchange for not building a casino in an environmentally-sensitive area.
On the other side, the key argument brought by Proposition 48 and its supporters was over “off-reservation gaming,” contending the Mono’s proposed casino land wasn’t on their reservation, and had no connection to the tribe.
“The bigger picture for us is that if the state is going to allow ‘off-reservation gaming,’ they should allow it for everybody,” Dan Casas, counsel for Table Mountain, told the Fresno Bee.
“All gaming has to take place on qualified Native American trust land,” said Charles Altekruse, spokesman for the North Fork Mono Rancheria. “That’s really important, because people don’t seem to understand there’s a complex and lengthy vetting process for tribes to take land into trust. It’s especially true for casino projects, and we have historical records that provide proof this area around Madera where the project is sited, that our tribe has a historical and modern connection to the land.”
The state is reviewing its options in the negotiations, a spokesman said.