Government & Politics
4:01 pm
Fri August 31, 2012

Governor Brown OK's Highway 99 Casino For North Fork Tribe

California Governor Jerry Brown announced Friday that he has approved plans by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to build a casino along Highway 99 in Madera County. 

The proposed casino would occupy 305 acres on Highway 99 at Avenue 17, near the Madera Municipal Airport. The proposed casino is around 40 miles from the tribe's headquarters in North Fork. 

The tribal gaming compact signed by the governor will allow the group to operate 2,000 slot machines at the site.  The Las Vegas-style resort would also eventually have a hotel with around 200 rooms.

Last fall, the Department of the Interior approved the tribe's request to move forward with the casino, saying that the tribe's current rancheria is too small for a gaming operation. Governor Brown's decision allows the Madera land to be placed "in trust" which is a necessary condition to allow gaming at the site. 

According to a document released last fall by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the casino could generate as much as $53.8 million in annual net revenues by its seventh year of operation.

The project had faced strong opposition from the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, which operates the Chuckchansi Gold Resort and Casino in Coarsegold. 

Both the City of Madera and Madera County stand to benefit from the new casino. The tribe has agreed to make a one-time payment of $17.9 million to the county and $10.3 million to the city for costs associated with the project, such as law enforcement and road improvements. The tribe will also make annual payments of $1.075 million to the city and $4.03 million to the county. 

Tribal chairwoman Elaine Bethel-Fink praised the governor's decision in a written statement released late Friday. "This decision represents a significant step forward in our Tribe’s dreams of self-sufficiency and a better life for our children, grandchildren, and neighboring communities."

As part of the agreement, the tribe will share gaming revenues with the Wiyot Tribe from Humboldt County. That tribe will in return give up its rights to build a casino of its own.

According to tribal officials, the North Fork Rancheria has over 1,900 members. The tribe estimates that the facility will create 1,500 permanent jobs, plus another 750 jobs during construction.

The compact approved by the governor Friday must also get the approval of the Secretary of the Interior and the State Legislature. It replaces an earlier compact approved by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2008.