SACRAMENTO -- The state Senate gave final approval to a controversial new tribal casino that divided Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento and could reshape the future of gambling in California.
The 22-11 vote, which split members of both parties, will allow the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to build a new casino with 2,000 slot machines on a 300-acre parcel just north of Madera in the Central Valley that was once slated to be a NASCAR track.
The deal was made possible through a rare federal approval process that allowed the tribe to build on land it has just recently acquired. Federal law stipulates that typically casinos can be build only on lands recognized as belonging to tribes before 1988, the year the federal government officially sanctioned tribal gambling.
The exception made for North Fork angered other neighboring and large casino-owning tribes around the state who said the North Fork were “reservation shopping.” The new location’s proximity to a major state highway and the city of Madera also touched off concerns about the encroachment of Indian casinos into urban areas.
Gov. Jerry Brown negotiated a deal with the tribe that would allow it to build a casino and hotel. Many lawmakers found themselves squeezed between labor unions that favored the deal because of the new union jobs a casino would bring, and casino-owning tribes that were opposed. Both groups are major political donors.
“We cannot be jammed like this again,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who ultimately voted for the bill.
Sen. Kevin DeLeon (D-Los Angeles), who had opposed the deal for months before ultimately voting for it, said he would convene a working group to plan for similar casino deals in the future.
“There is a lack of a clear, coherent policy on off-reservation gaming,” he said. “This deal was just dumped on our floor by the feds and the governor and we are being caught in the crossfire. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Another tribe, the Enterprise Rancheria of the Estom Yumeka Maidu, has also received federal approval, and negotiated a deal with Brown, to build a casino with 2,000 slot machines on newly acquired land in Yuba County.
That deal must be ratified by both houses of the Legislature before it becomes law.
DeLeon said he thought the Enterprise deal “would be impacted” by the legislative discussions over North Fork.
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