Brown to Decide on Allowing Off-Reservation Tribal Casinos
Gov. Jerry Brown will decide August 31 whether two California Indian tribes can open two sprawling casinos not located on their lands.
The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in Mariposa County and the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians in Butte County would be 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.
The U.S. Department of Interior has already approved the request of the 1,800-member North Fork Rancheria and the 800-member Enterprise Rancheria. 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.
“Both tribes have historical connections to the proposed gaming sites and both proposals have strong support from the local community, which are important factors in our review,” said Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior, after the approval.
Tribes who have already built and operate casinos on their own lands oppose the Democratic governor agreeing with the federal government.
“It’s opening the flood gates,” said Marilyn Wright, executive officer of the California Tribal Business Alliance.
“The purpose of picking these locations is all about access, commercial viability. It’s purely financial.”
Brown hasn’t said what he will do.
“Until a decision is made, our office continues to solicit and consider input from all stakeholders regarding the projects as we weigh the interests of local communities, tribes and the people of California,” said Evan Westrup, a Brown spokesman.
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.
“If the governor approves this, tribes across the state will be looking to shop around for the most profitable locations to build casinos — no matter how far they are from their tribal land. And possibly ending up in another tribe’s homeland,” said Wright.
“Land has great importance to Indian tribes because the lands contain their histories, ancestors and cultural resources. To allow tribes to move beyond their aboriginal territory and usurp the aboriginal territory of another tribe is a slap in the face to the history and cultural identity of sovereign nations.”
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