Group forms to fight casino referendum

A political committee has been formed to block a referendum challenging a proposed tribal casino north of Madera planned by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians.

The compact calling for the proposed casino with 2,000 slot machines and hotel was approved by the governor and ratified by the Legislature in June.  The project drew opposition from rivals led by Cheryl Schmit, head of a group called Stand Up for California, which is sponsoring the referendum to overturn the lawmakers’ approval. Schmit’s group has received financing from, among others, nearby Table Mountain casino, which through the end of last month had contributed $350,000 to the signature-gathering effort. Stand Up California needs more than 500,000 signatures to qualify the referendum for the 2014 ballot.

The group challenging the referendum is Voters for Central Valley Jobs and the Environment, which describes itself as a coalition of tribes, labor groups, and business and environmental groups. The coalition includes the North Fork Rancheria and Station Casino LLC, a Nevada-based gaming management and development group.

With such well-financed groups on both sides of the referendum, the campaign is all but certain to run into many millions of dollars.

The proposed casino near Madera would be built on a 300-acre site. Critics complain that the casino, which is 35 miles from North Fork’s principal tribal lands, would serve as a precedent for other tribal centers located away from reservations.

The casino-hotel project followed years of negotiations that included unusual approval from the federal government to build on property that the North Fork Rancheria had obtained relatively recently, instead of before the 1988 federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was signed into law.

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