The North Fork Mono Rancheria Indian Tribe was notified July 29 that the United States Department of Interior (DOI) has given its blessing to the gaming compact between the tribe and the state, allowing the tribe to proceed with its proposed casino on 305-acres north of Madera.
“The issuance of Secretarial Procedures by the DOI is a significant achievement and clears a major hurdle for the development of our tribe’s gaming facility,” said Tribal Chair Maryann McGovran. “The tribe is extremely excited about this achievement and is appreciative of the Department of Interior’s work on this issue.”
The tribe’s proposed project, first announced 12 years ago, includes a casino with 2,000 slot machines, 40 table games, a hotel, several restaurants and a parking structure.
“Although there is still work to be done and challenges to overcome, we are proud of our perseverance and dedication in fulfilling the letter and spirit of the law throughout the process,” said McGovran. “The issuance of secretarial procedures for our project is an example of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988) working the way it was intended to and assisting tribes in becoming economically self-sufficient.”
In an email, Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler expressed his pleasure over the Department of Interior’s decision. “The issuance of secretarial procedures is a significant achievement and clears a major hurdle for the development of the tribe’s gaming facility,” Wheeler said. “The tribe is extremely excited about this achievement and is appreciative of the Department of Interior’s work, and the support the proposal has received from county residents and county government over the years.”
Wheeler said that although there is still work to be done and challenges to overcome, he is proud of tribal leaders and county officials for their “perseverance and dedication in fulfilling the letter and spirit of the law throughout the process.”
“We look forward to resolving the remaining obstacles as quickly as possible and moving forward to build and operate a project that will be beneficial for the tribe and our entire community,” Wheeler said.
North Fork Rancheria must still overcome several legal challenges filed by opponents before it can begin construction, but McGovran remains hopeful.
“We look forward to resolving the remaining obstacles as quickly as possible and moving forward to build and operate a project that will be beneficial for our tribe and our entire community,” McGovran said.
About the North Fork Rancheria
The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians is a federally recognized Native American tribe with nearly 2,000 tribal citizens. Since the restoration of its federally recognized status in 1983, the tribe has established modern tribal governing institutions to improve the lives of its tribal citizens, many of whom have limited access to basic housing, healthcare, business, employment, and educational services and opportunity. The tribe leverages its limited federal grant funding to operate numerous tribal programs. Details: more information available at NorthForkRancheria.com.
It was just about three weeks ago that the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, owner-operators of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, filed another complaint challenging the right of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to develop the casino.
Chukchansi tribal leaders have attempted to stop the Mono casino plan since it was first announced, saying the Mono’s Madera parcel does not constitute Indian lands for gaming as per the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), and that the proposed facility would cause financial harm to Chukchansi’s gaming facility.
This initiative was financially supported by other casinos, including Chukchansi and Table Mountain, and was managed by the self-proclaimed gaming watchdog group Stand Up for California.
Judge Ishii has ordered the state and the the Mono tribe’s financial backers, Stations Casinos of Las Vegas, to show why the development should be allowed.
“What is being attempted by the billionaire owners of Station Casinos is shameful,” Chukchansi Tribal Chairwoman Claudia Gonzales said in a release. “They are attempting to buy the sovereignty of a tribe. We will continue to fight to keep tribal sovereignty in the hands of tribal nations.”
According to a spokesman for the Mono tribe, the Chukchansi tribe and Stand Up for California have filed five lawsuits in state and federal courts seeking to stop or delay the North Fork project.
The suits began in 2012 when Chukchansi challenged Gov. Jerry Brown’s concurrence with the Department of the Interior’s decision to take the land into trust for the North Fork Rancheria.
These lawsuits are in addition to Proposition 48, a 2014 statewide referendum to allow the California Legislature’s enactment of AB 277 that ratified the 2012 North Fork Rancheria Compact. Chukchansi and its allies provided nearly $20 million in funding.
“These legal actions are required because North Fork’s backers are ignoring existing law and the will of California’s voters who overwhelmingly rejected the plan just a few years ago,” Gonzales said. “Judge Ishii’s order is a good indication that our concerns about the North Fork plan, which are shared by tribes throughout the state, are valid and of real concern to the court.
“We will fight to ensure that tribal gaming regulations respect real tribal sovereignty and prevent the proliferation of off-reservation gaming in the state,” Gonzales added.
North Fork response
The North Fork tribe’s public response to these lawsuits over the years has been fairly muted, electing to hold comments until all of the suits are decided by the courts.
But in a prepared statement, North Fork Rancheria Tribal Chairperson Maryann McGovran said all the legal maneuvering of Chukchansi boils down to one thing - fear of competition.
“These most recent outrageous comments from Chukchansi, together with their overall strategy which frankly undermines tribal rights nationally, really are just an attempt to deflect attention from the real story here - Chukchansi’s desperate attempts to forestall the inevitable competition by wasting their tribal citizens’ money on two more lawsuits and endless pleadings in pending cases rather than focusing on building the very best casino possible for their customers, workers, and community,” McGovran said.
McGovran said her tribe has always followed - and will continue to follow - the statutory process to be able to conduct class III gaming on the land in their trust.
“Compared to the combative and litigious approach of some tribes, our respectful, collaborative, transparent approach has earned the support and respect of our county government officials, and neighbors,” McGovran said.
McGovran said while the tribe does not comment on pending litigation, she felt obligated to respond to the latest claims made by Chukchansi about her tribe and development partner.
“Our tribe was a strong, established, stable sovereign government already pursuing tribal gaming long before we selected Station Casinos, the recognized industry leader in developing successful tribal gaming operations,” McGovran said. “North Fork’s tribal sovereignty and government is sound and secure and has nothing to do with our development partner.”
The Picayune Tribe has had its share of legal and financial woes over the years, and Chukchansi’s external battles against North Fork have occurred against a backdrop of internal politics, including tribal disenrollment.
The tribe has also fought through financial issues including lawsuits from unpaid subcontractors and creditors, defaults on bond interest payments, legal battles with Madera County, and dueling tribal councils that led to a hostile take-over of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino that forced the facility to be shut down for more than a year.
“It’s sad for Indian Country to watch all the trials and tribulations Chukchansi has gone through over the last few years,” McGovran said. “They are North Fork’s relatives and it’s sad to think that in the end, all of that tribal money will be wasted when it could have been better spent fulfilling the true promise of Indian gaming ... helping Indian people and building strong tribes and communities.”