A federal judge last week dismissed one of the biggest legal challenges against the North Fork Rancheria’s proposed casino, leaving the tribe ready to begin development on its 200-room hotel and gaming resort just north of the City of Madera.
In U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell’s decision, the former federal prosecutor shut down several arguments made by opponents of the proposed casino, noting “the law is not on their side.”
“To stop the casino from coming to fruition, (opponents) have initiated both state and federal litigation as well as statewide political efforts over the last seven-plus years, setting, in their own words, ‘high legal and political hurdles,’” Howell wrote.
Howell’s 170-page decision makes reference to the efforts of anti-gaming group Stand Up for California! and other opponents of the proposed casino. In 2014, with millions in funding provided by the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians and Table Mountain Rancheria, the group launched ad campaigns for voters about Proposition 48, a veto referendum that denied certification of the state’s gaming compacts with the North Fork and Wiyot tribes.
Stand Up, the Chukchansi tribe, and Madera-area church groups were the primary plaintiffs in the lawsuit tossed out by Judge Howell Sept. 6.
Maryann McGovran, tribal chairwoman for the North Fork Rancheria, said the tribe was “delighted and satisfied” with Howell’s decision.
“After finally overcoming so many legal and political challenges, we are ready to start developing our project so that we can bring jobs and economic opportunity to our Tribal citizens, the Madera community and this region,” McGovran said.
John Peebles, attorney for the Chukchansi tribe, said the decision opens up the possibility for more “off reservation gaming” and other effects.
“It’s a horrendous decision for Indian country in the effects this could have on them,” Peebles said. “I think it’s going to have detrimental effects across the country.”
Peebles said the Chukchansi tribe will appeal Howell’s decision, and two lawsuits against the casino project remain in court.
The 305-acre casino site is adjacent to Highway 99, at Avenue 18. If constructed as planned, the facility could include up to 2,500 gaming devices and 200 hotel rooms, making it similarly sized to Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino.
The dismissed lawsuit was one of the biggest obstacles to the casino project. Howell, in her decision, affirmed the federal Interior Department’s conclusion that any negative impacts from the casino towards the surrounding community would not be detrimental overall.
The decision follows more than a decade of complicated environmental review and legal challenges over the casino, which is backed by developer Station Casinos of Las Vegas.