Feds OK North Fork's casino, votes may decide fate

FRESNO, Calif.

The North Fork Rancheria wants to build the casino just four miles north of the city of Madera, along Highway 99. But, opponents, primarily the tribes which operate two other casinos in the area are behind a drive to put the issue of the Madera County casino before voters all over the state.

The controversy started a decade ago because the casino site is 35 miles from the community of North Fork, where the tribe is headquartered. But the federal government approved a compact with the tribe, declaring the site along Highway 99 to be tribal land, and as a result, eligible for a casino.

The North Fork Tribes Community Relations Director Charles Altekruse tells Action News it's a major win for the tribe.

"We are very excited," said Altekruse. "On paper it represents the culmination of a rigorous ten year process by which this landless tribe has now successfully acquired land for commercial purposes."

Many in Madera County, including Supervisor Tom Wheeler are applauding the decision, because it appears to clear the way for a major development that promises to bring jobs and revenue to the county.

"Personally I'm really happy the federal government gave final approval," said Wheeler. "We've been working on this for ten years."

But the feeling is not unanimous.

The Table Mountain tribe which owns Table Mountain Casino in Fresno County and the Chukchansi tribe which owns the Chukchansi casino in Madera County are fighting. They have spent millions on an initiative drive, which could put the question of Madera counties new casino on a statewide election ballot.

Madera County Supervisor David Rogers opposes the new casino. "If the compact is not approved by the voters or it's voted down by the voters then all of this is for naught."

While the other casinos in rural locations fear the competition a casino along a major highway could bring, Rogers says he opposes more gambling on moral grounds, fearing it destroys lives and families.

"The children of those families are most affected because dad comes home without any money to fill the needs of the family a lot of times people lose their homes, marriages are dissolved as a result of gambling," explained Rogers.

But, moral or not, tribal gaming is legal in California, the fight now is whether it will happen on this land or not.

Supporters of the petition drive claim to have gathered more than 800,000 signatures. They need about 500,000 to get it on the ballot. County clerks in every county will have to verify the signatures. If enough are valid then the measure to stop the casino in Madera County could be on the ballot in November of 2014.

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