California Governor Jerry Brown (above) has approved the state’s first off-reservation casinos for the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians in Madera County and the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria, both Northern California tribes. The Enterprise tribe wants to build on Highway 65 near Yuba City in Yuba County, while the Mono tribe wants to build on 305 acres along Highway 99 in Madera County, near Fresno.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs had granted a rare exception to the rule that prevents gambling on reservations created after 1988, when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Exceptions are allowed when the Secretary of the Interior determines that an off-reservation casino is in the best interests of the tribe. However, in that case, the assent of the state’s governor is required, and if he vetoes it there is no appeal. Except, of course, in federal court.
Brown’s assent was required to allow the Bureau of Indian Affairs to go forward and put land into trust for the two tribes. Each tribe hopes to build a casino with at least 2,000 slot machines. Each tribe will be building more than 30 miles from its traditional homeland. Tribal gaming compacts still must be approved by the legislature.
Critics of the governor’s decision, who call putting land into trust for tribes far from their traditional homeland “reservation-shopping,” say it could open the gates to urban casinos all over the state, to create a new “gold rush,” according to one.
Brown disagrees, and in a statement, predicted that his decision would not create a precedent for other tribes. “I expect there will be few requests from other tribes that will present the same kind of exceptional circumstances to support a similar expansion of tribal gaming land,” Brown wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
“These decisions change the face of tribal gaming as we know it in California,” countered David Quintana, political director of the California Tribal Business Alliance, which includes as its members several gaming tribes. Quintana said he expects a “very long fight,” presumably a legal fight or a fight in the legislature, over the casinos. In the legislature, says one critic, the two proposals will run “into a buzz saw.”