California voters soundly defeated Proposition 48, which would have allowed the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians (North Fork Tribe) to build an off-reservation casino in California’s Central Valley, 40 miles from its traditional homeland. With more than 4 million votes cast, “no” votes had about 61 percent, compared to 39 percent for yes votes.
Opponents of off-reservation casinos, which they call “reservation shopping,” focused all of their opposition to that practice on Proposition 48, which was largely funded by gaming interests who felt threatened by the competition posed by an Indian casino near the freeway that bisects the San Joaquin Valley.
Proposition 48 would have approved a tribal-state gaming compact signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013 and ratified by the legislature. It would have also ratified a compact with the Wiyot Tribe, which in return for promising not to build a casino was allocated a portion of the North Fork Tribe’s gaming revenue.
Major funding for the opposition to the measure came from gaming tribes with large, dominant casinos, which between them raised $16 million, compared to $400,000 raised by supporters of Prop. 48, most of it from the North Fork Tribe’s casino partner, Station Casinos.
Proposition 48 was put on the ballot by opponents of the compact, including U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California). She joined those who claimed that the North Fork compact violated California Proposition 1A passed in 1999 that allowed Indian gaming in the state. Those people claim that the amendment to the state constitution stipulated that tribes would confine their casinos to their reservations.
Some contended that Prop. 48 was actually a national issue, and Feinstein’s onetime ally on this issue, former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, once stated, “The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was originally intended to promote tribal economic development and self-sufficiency—not to enable tribes to become gambling enterprises that constantly expand to new casino locations.”
Feinstein recently declared, “The fact is that some tribes have abused their unique right to operate casinos and have ignored the intent of Congress by taking land into trust miles away from their historical lands. This is done simply to produce the most profitable casino and the greatest number of potential gamblers, often with little regard to the local communities.”
Brown, the California Democratic Party, the Los Angeles Times and many local leaders in Madera supported the proposition. They claimed that the North Fork casino would create 4,000 jobs and protect pristine lands near the Sierras because the tribe would not be building on its out-of-the-way reservation.
The tribe wants to build a $250 million casino with 2,000 slots and hotel adjacent to Highway 99 near Madera on 305 acres. The vote does nothing to change the land’s status as reservation land. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has ruled that the North Fork Tribe has a historical connection to the land. The vote does not affect the bureau’s approval of the compact.