Brown Approves California’s First Off-Reservation Indian Casinos

In a major decision that could create far-reaching changes for Indian gaming in California, Gov. Jerry Brown agreed August 31 with federal authorities to allow two tribes to build large casinos on sites outside their reservations.

“While I am reluctant to allow the expansion of gaming on land currently ineligible for it, I concur in your determination,” Brown wrote federal officials who had previously approved the tribes’ proposed gambling facilities.

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in Mariposa County and the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians in Butte County are the first California tribes allowed to operate casinos not located on their tribal lands.

Granting them that privilege could lead to future Indian casinos sited closer to urban areas.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Interior approved the request of the 1,800-member North Fork Rancheria and the 800-member Enterprise Rancheria to construct off-reservation casinos.

North Fork wants to build a 2,500-slot, 200-room hotel near Madera. Enterprise proposes a 1,700-slot and 170-room hotel near Oroville.

“The federal administrative process giving rise to your determination was extremely thorough. The process lasted more than ten years, included numerous hearings, considered hundreds of comments and generated thousands of pages of administrative records,” Brown wrote in an August 30 letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in approving the Enterprise Rancheria request.

An Artist Rendering of North Fork’s Proposed Casino

“A large tribal population will directly benefit from the gaming facility.  The Enterprise Tribe is made up of more than 800 native Californians who face serious economic hardship.”

The Democratic governor sent a similar letter to Salazar approving the North Fork proposal.

Tribes who have already built and operate casinos on their own lands oppose Brown’s actions.

“This completely changes the face of California tribal gaming,’ said David Quintana, a tribal lobbyist.

“Now that (the governor) has done this it will be about investors finding tribes and cities that are financially strapped and cutting deals because that’s exactly what happened in Madera.”

Madera County Supervisors voted in January to back the North Fork Rancheria’s casino, which would be located in that county at Highway 99 and Avenue 17.

The project will create 4,250 jobs — 1,500 of them permanent – the North Fork Rancheria says.

In addition, the project will generate more than $100 million for the city and county of Madera over 20 years, backers say.

The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 allows tribes to build casinos on reservations that existed prior to Oct. 17, 1988 but not on lands taken into trust after that date.

However, the Secretary of Interior can grant exemptions if the off-reservation site is deemed to be in the tribe’s best interest and doesn’t hurt the surrounding community.

Enterprise’s Oroville site is roughly 50 miles from their reservation. North Fork’s Madera location is 40 miles from their lands near Yosemite.

An Artist Rendering of the Enterprise Rancheria’s Proposed Casino

In announcing his decision Brown said:

“The compact includes provisions to protect employees and patrons as well as measures to protect the environment during the construction and operation of gaming facilities. It also funds programs in local communities to mitigate the effect of gaming activities and address gambling addiction.”

Quintana cautioned that both facilities would face state environmental quality act challenges.

“If you have a five spot don’t plan on dropping it in any of these casinos any time soon,” Quintana said. “We believe they completely skirted the California Environmental Quality Act and there will be a lot of extended litigation on the issue.”


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