New ballot effort to block disputed casino

Two weeks before the November election, a major casino-owning tribe in Southern California has launched a campaign against Proposition 48 to block another tribe’s establishment of a new casino in the Central Valley.

The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which owns and operates a casino-resort in Temecula — the largest casino in California — formed the new committee to oppose Proposition 48. The referendum targets the decision by lawmakers and the governor to allow a new casino off U.S. 99 in Madera sought by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians.

The law also includes some exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act.

Supporters of the Madera casino say they will proceed with the casino project, even if voters reject Proposition 48.

A no vote on the referendum means the current law, signed by the governor and ratified by the Legislature, will be overturned.

A yes vote means the law, AB 277 by Assemblyman Isidore Hall, D-Compton, will be ratified.

The new committee, “First Americans for Keeping the Promise, No on 48” did not have any funds in its account, as of Wednesday afternoon.

Pechanga spokesman Jacob Mejia said the committee was an attempt to “make sure we are keeping all of our options open.”

The establishment of the casino has been a flashpoint for years within the tribal gaming community. The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, following a series of state and federal approvals, hopes to build the 2,000-slot casino and a 200-room hotel on a 305-acre site, but opponents criticized the tribe for placing the proposed casino-resort on property that is some 40 miles from its ancestral lands.

The most intense opposition thus far has come from the Table Mountain Rancheria, which operates a casino in Friant. Of the $16.2 million thus far raised to block the referendum, nearly $11 million has come from Table Mountain, according to the secretary of state’s office. Supporters of Proposition 48 have raised about $420,000.

Supporters of the Madera casino say they will proceed with the casino project, even if voters reject Proposition 48. In part, that’s because the project could be modified to avoid the requirement for state approval, and get approval instead from the National Indian Gaming Commission to open a Class II casino.

“The voters of California will see us building something in a year. And those who vote no are going to think, ‘Hey, we thought we voted no to stop this,’” casino backer Maryann McGovran told a television interviewer.


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