Opponents of California Prop. 48 Have the Most Moneybags

Inevitably the contest between the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, who want to build an off-reservation casino in Northern California, and the tribes who oppose it on philosophical and economic grounds, is characterized as David vs. Goliath. The funds raised by the foes of Prop. 48, which would allow the casino, would seem to bear this out.

Opponents of California Proposition 48, which would approve of the gaming compact between the state and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, allowing them to build an off-reservation casino, have raised almost million to fight it.

The proposition is on the November 4 ballot. The major contributor to the No on Prop. 48 have been the Table Mountain Rancheria, which the Sacramento Bee reported last week kicked in $10.95 million. The casino the North Fork tribe hopes to build would be about 30 miles from their Table Mountain Casino. Other opponents who have contributed to the No campaign include the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, and the United Auburn Indian Community, owners of Thunder Valley Casino, and several investment firms: Brigade Capital Management, Riva Ridge Capital Management and DG Capitol Management LLC.

Although Prop. Opponents of the North Fork casino put 48 on the ballot, the no vote would be a vote against the casino. The compact would also prohibit the Wiyot tribe from building a casino while at the same time giving it up to 3.5 percent of the casino’s slots revenue.

At the heart of the debate over Prop. 48 is the issue of “off-reservation” Indian casinos, and the practice that critics call “reservation shopping.” This is an issue unlikely to go away in the Golden State. The legislature is mulling a second off-reservation pact, this one with the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria, which would allow a casino in Yuba County, in the northern part of the state.

The North Fork Band and Station Casinos, their partner in building the 2,000 slot casino, don’t normally address that issue, except to say that they really didn’t have a choice, since their tribal land, near Yosemite, is to rocky and remote for a casino. The current location, off Highway 99 in Madera County, makes much more financial sense to the tribe. But it’s the location that has motivated Table Mountain, among others, to oppose the compact. Instead of dwelling on the “off-reservation” debate, they tout the proposed casino’s job creation potential, which is important in a county that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

Facing an electoral head wind, the North Fork tribe has adopted a defiant tone. According to its vice chairman, Maryann McGovran, the federal government has already put the 305 acres into trust. A compact is not required to build.

“The voters of California will see us building something in a year. And those who vote no are gonna think hey, we thought we voted no to stop this,” she told a local radio station.

She called the vote a “delay.” . “It’s a delay tactic put on by those that are opposing us the two tribes for competing reasons.”

Last week the vice chairman described to Valley Public Radio what the public will soon see rise from the land. “We’ll start off with the casino, some restaurants, food court, bingo hall. We’ll go into parking garage and a hotels. You’re going to see it, right here on the front 55 acres.”

One of the leaders of the opposition to Prop. 48, Cheryl Schmit of Stand Up for California, notes the precedence set if the casino is allowed to go forward. “Here we have an off reservation casino that’s been approved to be on Highway 99,” she said. “If this facility is allowed to move forward it sets a precedent for California.”

Schmit added, The casino issue is not just a local issue it’s a state wide issue,” she said. “If this one goes through you will see another number of proposals.”

Officials of Madera County are split on the issue. Tom Wheeler, chairman of the board, calls the project “one of the most important economically thing that’s come to Madera county for 50 years.” He projects that it will bring $5 million a year to the county, city, schools and other local entities.

Supervisor Max Rodriguez feels the same way. “We have to put people to work, we have to. Madera County is poverty-stricken,” he told Eyewitness News 7.

Madera Mayor Robert Poythress is on the opposite side of the issue. “The reason I’m opposing the North Fork casino, one reason primarily, and that’s due to issues of problem gambling that it would cause,” he said. The very fact that the area has a high unemployment rate is the reason that it doesn’t need a casino, he says. “They just become addicting to gambling, just like any other addiction, it’s something that would affect families, jobs, pocket books, the whole shot,” he told the radio station.

Supervisor David Rogers stands with him. “The people who are hurt worse from gambling are low-income people, we have a city full them, there’s 32 percent in poverty,” he said.