Tribe Goes to Court to Get California Gaming Compact

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians lost with the voters in November when they defeated its gaming compact with the State of California. Now they are going to try their luck with the federal courts.

After voters deep sixed its tribal state gaming compact last November, the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians has sued the state of California to try to get the compact anyway.

The tribe first obtained a gaming compact that allowed it to build a casino 40 miles off its reservation from Governor Jerry Brown. Then the legislature ratified it. However, the voters overturned that compact by initiative: Proposition 48.

Now the tribe has taken the issue to court, claiming that its reservation, near Yosemite, is too remote to allow it to build there, and that it must have an off-reservation location.

The tribe, which has about 2,000 members, seeks to build a casino with 2,000 slots and 40 gaming tables near Madera on land that has already been put into trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The tribe’s compact was defeated by an overwhelming electoral effort in which opponents raised more than $18.5 million, much of it from neighboring casino tribes who didn’t want the competition.

About 60 percent of the voters opposed the compact.

In the federal lawsuit the tribe claims that the state negotiated its compact in bad faith. According to the complaint: “The governor of California and the tribe initially negotiated and executed a compact and the California Legislature passed legislation to ratify the compact. The state’s position, however, is that because California electors subsequently voted to reject the legislation ratifying the compact, the state has not entered into a valid gaming compact with the tribe.”

The state also did not negotiate in good faith and “has not communicated its objections or demands regarding the compact, so meaningful bargaining cannot proceed, the tribe states, noting that the negotiation scheme under the IGRA is “not a one-way process in which the obligation to compromise rests solely on the tribe,” according to the lawsuit.

Governor Brown has said that in light of the defeat of the compact that it would be “futile” to try to negotiate another compact. However, says the tribe, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) does not permit states to refuse to negotiate a compact. The tribe is asking the court to compel Brown to sign another compact.

At the same time the state is being sued by one of the North Fork tribe’s potential competitors, the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians and the group that fought the compact last year, Stand Up for California.