Casino referendum to be put on November 2014 ballot

The referendum to reverse the state’s approval of the state ‘compact’ with the North Fork Mono Indians for the tribe’s proposed casino off Highway 99 north of Madera has qualified for the November 2014 ballot.

According to the Secretary of State’s website, 504,760 state-wide signatures were needed to qualify the referendum for next year’s ballot, and a random sample taken from some 784,571 signatures, projects more than 555,000 verified signatures required to place the referendum on the November ballot. This now delegates to Californians voters the power to decide whether or not the project will continue as planned.

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians negotiated the compact with the Governor Jerry Brown to build the casino adjacent to the Madera Municipal Golf Course near Highway 99 and Avenue 18. The compact is now on hold due to the referendum.

The opposition to the project argues that building the casino violates Proposition 1-A which was approved by California voters more than 13 years ago and states Indian gaming casinos are to be placed on tribal land.

“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,” said Cheryl Schmit from Stand Up for California. “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.”

Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians Tribal Chairwoman Nancy Ayala, in a prepared statement, said she looks forward to seeing the referendum on the ballot.

“We look forward to making the case that ‘off-reservation’ gaming is not only wrong for tribes, but flies in the face of what California voters have approved in the past,” Ayala said. “Building the North Fork casino off the Mono Tribe’s Rancheria by more than 40 miles threatens the balanced gaming structure that currently exists in our state. And it threatens to decimate the economy of the Picayune Rancheria and our people.”

Earlier this Brown and legislatures passed bills approving the state-tribe compact for the casino, about 35 miles from the tribe’s reservation in North Fork.

If the referendum that will appear on the ballot passes, it will completely void the current compact, which would provide Madera County up to $5 million annually for 20 years to be used for additional sheriff deputies, fire protection, road work, and other services.

Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler feels if the referendum passes, it will clearly hinder the economic growth of Madera County.

“The way this works is just terrible ... all the casinos think they can control the situation ... they have casinos and they don’t want anyone else too get involved.” Wheeler said. “They are greedy and it’s really disappointing. I think they should count every signature. Here is something the federal government approved and the land was put in trust. Yet they are going to try and stop them from building something that is in trust. The Mono tribe has gone through 10 years of doing everything the feds, the state and the county required to get to this point.”

If allowed to build, the compact originally included the Mono tribe to pay Chukchansi tribe a sum of $750,000 quarterly for the next five years for revenue losses, but that portion of the compact was removed when Chukchansi continued to oppose the project.

According to financial documentation, nearly $3 million has been put towards the referendum to date. Roughly $1.4 million of came from the financial backers of Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino. Another $1.4 million was contributed by Table Mountain Rancheria which own and operate a casino near Friant. Both factions would stand to suffer financial losses if a casino is built near Highway 99.

North Fork Rancheria Tribal Chairperson Elaine Bethel-Fink is distraught with the referendum and thinks it is unjust and unfair.

“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 many years of rigorous work by our tribe and Madera County leaders and the good, deliberate judgment of the State of California, Governor Brown and the Legislature – all to gain a financial advantage by stopping competition,” Bethel-Fink said.

Between 1912 and 2013 there have been a total of 79 referendums titled and summarized for circulation. Forty-nine of these referendums qualified for the state ballot, and of those, 20 (41.67%) have been approved by voters.