Controversial project to build a casino along Highway 99 impacted by court ruling

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A new decision made by the federal government is changing the course and timeline of a controversial project to build a casino in Madera County along Highway 99. (KFSN)

For years the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians has been trying to turn the land off of Avenue 18 and Road 23 in Madera County into a casino.

Lawsuits claiming the tribe does not have tribal rights to the property for off-reservation gaming have created hurdles.

That was until Tuesday when a Washington, D.C. circuit court denied an appeal to rehear the U.S. Department of Interior's January ruling -- stating the government was correct when granting the 305 acres for the tribe's multi-million dollar project.

Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler sees the mega-casino -- built with a hotel, restaurants, and bars -- as a source of income for his community.

"The MoU (memorandum of understanding) that we worked out 15 years ago with them for Madera County is close to $5 million a year. It is going to cover our roads, our fire, our sheriff, our schools. You add $5 million to our general budget that is a lot of money in anybody's book."

But "Stand Up for California", a non-profit organization that focuses on gambling issues within the state is still trying to stop the project.

The group claims Governor Jerry Brown (D-California) shouldn't have agreed with the federal government to accept the land into trust.

Cheryl Schmit, a spokesperson for the group said, "We have an argument that the constitution and statute does not allow the governor to do that. Now you have one tribe changing the rule politically, not legally, it creates an imbalance."

Attorneys for "Stand Up for California" are still discussing if they will file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court based on the recent decision.

We reached out to the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California for comment and received this statement saying quote: "It is the policy of the Tribe not to comment on on-going litigation beyond saying that we are pleased with this interim decision."

Still -- despite the latest move -- many more decisions need to be made before the sun rises.
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