Madera County supervisors back North Fork Casino project

FRESNO, Calif.

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians want to locate the casino off of Highway 99 and Avenue 17 in Madera County.

Tribal leaders with Chukchansi and the Chowchilla Tribal Organization were just some of the people opposed to the Madera Supervisors' decision to send a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein detailing the community's support for the new casino north of Madera.

"By building another casino off reservation, they're opening the door for Table Mountain, you're opening the door for Chukchansi, for everybody else to come and build one along the Highway 99 corridor," said Bart Topping with the Chowchilla Tribal Organization.

In a 4 to 1 decision, the board decided to send the letter to Sen. Feinstein and other state officials indicating local support for the casino. In the letter, officials cite a polling survey that show a majority of Madera County voters support the plan. But those opposed cited other survey data indicating the opposite. "This poll was conducted of voters, showing 70 percent of voters oppose building off-reservation casinos," said Supervisor David Rogers, who cast the dissenting vote.

But the Department of the Interior already approved the plans for the North Fork Tribe's casino last year. "We have followed all the federal laws, all through the process. It's just that we get a speed bump here and there every once in a while that we have to address," said Elaine Fink, tribal council chair of North Fork Rancheria.

Last month, federal agents raided the North Fork Rancheria government offices - making off with boxes of evidence after serving a search warrant. Action News learned the raid was connected to the planned casino but tribal leaders wouldn't go into detail. "I'm not at liberty at this time to discuss that, but it was ill founded, unfounded and unwarranted," said Fink.

The casino still needs approval from Gov. Jerry Brown before construction can begin. "The governor of the state must look at the social impacts, is the proposed casino at this location consistent with the established gaming policy of the state," said Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up for California.

"I of course would argue no because it's not what voters voted for in Proposition 1A back in 2000, we did not vote for off-reservation gaming," Schmit said.

Even though the board voted in support of the letter, opponents say they'd rather have the issue go before voters in a county-wide election.

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