Competition Grows in California’s Central Valley

Eventually six Indian casinos could be competing against each other in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Competition is building among tribes that operate casinos in or near California’s San Joaquin Valley, which runs down the center of the Golden State.

Five Indian casinos compete for customers in the valley and more are in the planning stage.

The casino arms race started on the day after Thanksgiving when Table Mountain Casino quintupled the loyalty points offered to customers.

Chuckchansi Gold Casino & Resort saw those points and doubled them to 10.

Whether this kind of competition is sustainable has its skeptics, who say the market is near or at the saturation level.

Economics Professor Mark Nichols of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gambling, interviewed by the Fresno Bee, declared last week, “The time when you could open a casino and be the only one within 100 miles is dwindling.”

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, one of the largest tribes in the state, are proposing to build a $250 million casino off Highway 99 near the city of Madera, which would require an off-reservation transfer of land into trust. This proposal has generated cries of “reservation shopping,” and prompted an initiative on the November ballot to decide whether the governor and legislature should have allowed the casino to go forward.

The tribe claims that it needs to casino and its 1,500 jobs, to uplift the 2,000 mainly poverty stricken members who live in mobile homes and trailers on the remote reservation. 

Critics of the Madera site say that the tribe has existing land on its reservation that would serve for a casino, including the site of a now defunct lumber mill. However that site would require considerable hazardous waste clean up, according to the tribe’s attorney Dan Casas.

The tribe did attempt to build a casino closer to its reservation, but failed. Tribes like this one are the reason that federal law does allow some tribes to go “off-reservation” for land if they meet certain criteria, and the state’s governor agrees, which Governor Jerry Brown did. He called the seven-year process, “extremely thorough.”

North Fork faces potential competition from other gaming tribes, including the Big Sandy Rancheria of West Mono Indians, who want to relocate their existing Mono Wind Casino from Auberry to Friant adjacent to Table Mountain Rancheria’s casino and in a $150 million project, expand to 2,000 slots and up to 40 gaming tables, about the same size as Table Mountain.

Table Mountain Casino is not happy about having a rival next door, although they are keeping their comments civil and relatively muted and limiting them to issues of archaeological sensitivity and water availability.

Some industry experts say that having two large casino resorts next to each other might actually drive more business to both.

Meanwhile the Tule River Indians, who operate Eagle Mountain Casino, are looking at land it owns near Porterville for a new casino resort. The land is not yet in federal trust.

One tribal casino not under consideration for either expansion or relocation is Tachi Palace, which also has a 255-room hotel, both operated by the Santa Rose Rancheria.

Then there is the Tejon tribe, recently recognized by the federal government after being deconstituted in the last century.

All of the existing casinos operate between them 7,600 slots and 150 gaming tables.  The new casino and relocated casino would increase that by about 3,800 slots.