The Endless Road to the North Fork Casino

The battle for a Native American casino rages on

Tribal casinos have shown to improve the quality of life for Native Americans. During past decades, most tribal communities have been living in extreme poverty, but revenue from casinos has helped them.

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Even though tribal casinos provide great benefits for the tribes, players, and local governments, that doesn’t mean there are never any issues with them.

The North Fork Mono tribe

Since the beginning of the new century, there has been a debate about one tribal casino plan in California. The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians have taken a long-running effort to open a casino resort near Madera County. Their requests go back to 2003. This January, the case landed in the California Supreme Court. 

The Native American tribe became known in the early 20th century as the North Fork, or the North Fork Mono. It is a federally recognized tribe with a rich culture and traditional history from the San Joaquin Valley. Today, approximately 2,300 Mono Indians are located in the North Fork Rancheria reservation in Madera County, CA.

The current issue in California

The North Fork Mono Indians began their project to build a tribal casino, a resort hotel, restaurants, an entertainment lounge, retail space, and meeting rooms near Madera in the early 21st century.

In 2003, they signed a development and management agreement with Station Casinos, who offered to manage the construction and casino operations in a 30-acre parcel on an area between Madera and Chowchilla, the Tribe’s ancestral lands.

Almost a decade later, in 2012, an agreement was also reached with the California Governor Jerry Brown. It was a lengthy journey and in that time California Governor Gray Davis, negotiated a new tribal-state contract, that allowed nearly 60 tribes to expand their gambling operations to California. 

At the beginning of the 21st century, the passage of Proposition A1 ratified the Governor’s compact. Proposition A1 allowed Indian tribes in California to offer slot machines, lottery games, and certain types of card games on Indian lands. For the North Fork of Mono Indians, this passage was extremely important because it stated that they can open casinos that offer such games.

The pact with Governor Brown was approved by the California State Assembly and by the California State Senate in a few months, exactly on May 2, 2013, and June 27, 2013. But before the North Fork Mono casinos were built, a new obstacle appeared: Proposition 48. Proposition 48 halted the plans for the North Fork Mono casino because it changed how tribal and state compacts were ratified.

Proposition 48

What exactly is Proposition 48? In order to really understand what it is, you need to know the background behind the gambling scene in the area.

At present, there are three tribal casinos in the area. These casinos are, of course, businesses. And so, they want to keep as much business to themselves as possible.

If other casinos appeared, then these casinos would surely suffer losses. That means it’s in the current casinos’ best interests to do anything they can to keep other businesses out. This includes lobbying local governments.

Casinos often face stringent rules when it comes to local authorities. But this time, lobbying from competitors has had a negative effect on this business. This lobbying has led to Proposition 48, which halted additions of new Indian casinos in the area. This meant that the North Fork casinos had to halt their plans.

But the North Fork Mono tribe has not given up. Instead, they have brought their case to the California supreme court where their case can be heard. The case is currently waiting on the supreme court. Hopefully, for the tribe and casino players alike, the casinos will be able to be constructed.

What are Indian Casinos?

casino_owned_by_Native_American tribe_Choctaw Nation
Casino owned by the Native American tribe Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

We’ve all heard of Native American casinos. Even if you’re only an online gambler, the presence of Native American casinos can be found in all kinds of popular media leading all Americans to know about “Indian casinos.”

The legalization of American tribal casinos began in the 1980s. Since then, tribal casinos and gambling has become a large industry and still is a growing industry that brings revenue to individual tribes. 

The revenue streams from gambling have been used both to supplement tribe members’ income and to finance tribal infrastructure. The positive economic impact of tribal casinos in California has been a boon to local business owners and citizens of the rural inland. 

In the past 30 years, these casinos have attracted tourist’s dollars into the areas and helped relieve poverty, unemployment, and welfare for residents. In essence, these tribal casinos have been helpful for everyone involved.

On the other hand, after the U. S. federal government gave tribes more control over their economic development, some began operating gambling places that conflicted with state and local law. 

Nationwide, most of these Native American casinos have brought up an extra dimension to the debate over the sovereignty of some of these Native American tribes. Nowadays, through the gambling system and Indian casinos, Indian tribes have the means to provide essential services themselves, rather than having to depend on the government. 

Ultimately, the sovereignty issue is all about control. Debates about the development of rural inland, poverty, and environmental impacts are put to the side. The main issue is who will control the profits earned by the tribe’s casinos. Both sides, the Native American side and the State’s side, seek to secure their control over the profits and sovereignty.

Native American Casinos FAQs

  • Was the Madera County deal with California legal?

    In 2014, Madera County questioned the legality of the California State Assembly and the State Senate. In a lawsuit brought to the county judge, they stated that the Assembly and Senate were in the wrong, or at least, they have acted on the borderline of legality in granting permission for the North Fork Casino. When the Madera County judge ruled in favor of the state of California and dismissed the case, citizens and non-profit organizations raised their voices and expressed their opinions.
  • What was the referendum?

    A judge signed the Governor's approval of North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and the Wiyot tribe's casinos. There were two legal documents that would allow the construction of the North Fork casino: the compacts of AB2077, and Proposition 48. They would permit the North Fork of Mono Indians to build a 2,000-slot machine casino on federally entrusted North Fork land in Madera County. Proposition 48 was a referendum on the legislature. Proponents of the referendum claimed that casinos would create thousands of jobs in the valley where the Native tribes are located. It will generate employment and economic development among the Native population. Signing Proposition 48 would affect the North Fork tribe’s casino plans. This included establishing an area where other tribes would and would not be able to open competing casinos. North Fork tribe’s new casinos would bring much-needed revenue to the tribe while at the same time, generate more tax revenue and provide more choices for players. A wide range of options would also surely bring in more tourists. In November 2014, voters rejected the referendum. According to californianchoices.org, 39% voted in favor of the proposal, and 61% voted against the proposal. Further, a decision was made, and it has claimed that the state and the federal government must approve the compact between the California State and the North Fork of Mono Indians.
  • When did the District Court step in?

    The decision on the referendum definitively stopped the construction of the North Fork casino. More than 10 years later, in November 2015 a U.S. The District Court judge ordered Governor Brown and the North Fork of Mono Indians to return to gambling negotiations. Months passed by, but the negotiations failed. Additionally, more and more lawsuits were initiated in an attempt to stop the construction of the North Fork casino. California State didn't agree to another compact, and the North Fork of Mono Indians were permitted to take the dispute to the U.S. Interior Department. The approval was given in 2016. Since 2016, when the U. S. District Court confirmed the federal approval on the construction of the casino. The U. S. was in favor of the tribal casino project. In July 2018, the U.S. District Court ruled again in favor of the proposed gaming activity. Shortly after, the opposition raised its voice again. Against the tribal casino project were also two other gambling activities, the Deuce Lounge, and the Club One Casino. Mainly they argued that the location in Madera County would hurt their businesses. Residents and non-profit organizations were ready to voice their opinions too. And they voiced them, in the streets, on the media and in the court.