New Indian casino in Madera County could head to statewide ballot

FRESNO, Calif.

Do you want Las Vegas style casinos in your neighborhood?

Stand Up for California says that's what will happen as a result of latest Indian gaming compact approved by governor and the California legislature. It allows the state's first tribal, off-reservation casino in Madera County for North Folk Rancheria. The Casino would have 2,000 slot machines, and 200 hotel rooms and be located 35 miles from where tribal members live near Yosemite.

"We have never allowed slot machines off the reservations. If we're going to start doing that, then we need a vote of the public," said Cheryl Schmit with Stand Up California.

The gambling watchdog group has begun gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn the off-reservation agreement because it paves the way for more Indian casinos closer to cities. They need more than half-a-million people to sign by October to get it on next year's ballot. In approving the project, state leaders say California often resettled tribes throughout its history and this gives them an economic development opportunity for jobs and revenue.

"Now we should say that you can't build a gaming facility on those lands that you were forcibly appropriated to? I thought it was the right decision," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Some California tribes with casinos fought hard against allowing off-reservation sites because those places could undercut their business if gamblers can go somewhere closer to home. But they have decided to stand by the governor and legislature's decision and not join the referendum fight.

"The tribes I represent believe, 'hey. That's the score. That's what we need to do.' what we do need to do from this point on is try to create a comprehensive policy of how we handle these off-reservation gaming compacts," said David Quintana, a tribal lobbyist.

Until such a policy is set, off-reservation opponents say the door is wide open.

Enterprise Rancheria could be next. Governor has already approved a casino for them in Marysville. They have hired a team of lobbyists to get the legislature to do the same in the remaining four weeks of session. That gives Stand Up California more motivation to kick the signature drive into high gear.

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