North Fork Rancheria blasts rival tribes over anti-casino efforts

The North Fork Rancheria has an office in North Fork, California. Photo from Facebook

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians is wondering why rival tribes are asking Congress to intervene in a casino dispute in California.

The tribe won approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to open an off-reservation casino. But rivals with existing facilities are working with Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-California) in hopes stopping the project, The Fresno Bee reported.

“Every tribal leader across the nation should be deeply concerned about the principle being suggested by this effort, namely allowing the legislatures and citizens of all 50 states to weigh in on tribal rights, application of laws differently among tribes and that established federal gaming law … should be jeopardized to protect a few tribes from potential competition,” Chairwoman Maryann McGovran told the paper.

A spokesperson for LaMalfa confirmed that discussions are ongoing. But the paper said it's not clear how the bill will take shape.

“Congressman LaMalfa and a significant portion of the California delegation are communicating regularly and meeting regularly to look at every angle to address the issue,” legislative director Kevin Eastman told the paper.

In the past, lawmakers from California -- most notably, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) -- have introduced bills to limit new casinos. But those efforts haven't gained much traction due to opposition in Indian Country to amending the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or changing the land-into-trust process in a negative way.

The last time a bill of that type came to a vote in the House was in 2006, when then-Congressman Richard Pombo (R-California) failed to secure enough support for a package he called the Restricting Indian Gaming to Homelands of Tribes Act (RIGHT) Act. He was voted out of office later that year.

The North Fork's rivals include the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians, also known as the Colusa Indian Community, and the Mooretown Rancheria. Both operate casinos in northern California but the Colusa Casino and the Feather Falls Casino and Lodge are more than 200 miles north.

Another rival, the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, is much closer. The tribe operates the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino in Coarsegold, about 36 miles from the North Fork site.

As part of the two-part determination process of IGRA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was required to ensure that the North Fork project was not detrimental to the "surrounding community," including nearby tribes. Although the Chukchansis did not officially qualify under that definition, the agency still concluded that Chukchansi Gold -- which was shut down for 14 months due to a leadership dispute -- would not be harmed.

"AS-IA determined that Picayune’s existing gaming facility, more 30 miles from the proposed North Fork facility, has been successful in a competitive gaming market and the tribe would not suffer a detrimental impact," a fact sheet from September 2011 reads.

Although the Chukchansis have filed lawsuits against the state in hopes of stopping the North Fork casino, they did not challenge the BIA's determination.

In a different but related case, the Cachil Dehe Band is trying to stop the Enterprise Rancheria from opening an off-reservation casino. A federal judge, however, concluded that the tribe didn't need to be consulted by the BIA because the Colusa Casino is too far -- about 39 miles -- from the Enterprise site.

Get the Story:
Chukchansi tribe looks to Congress to stop North Fork casino (The Fresno Bee 3/30)
Chukchansi sues to halt North Fork casino (The Sierra Star 3/29)

California Court of Appeal Decision:
Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians v. Brown (September 24, 2014)

Federal Register Notices:
Indian Gaming (October 22, 2013)
Land Acquisitions; North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California (December 3, 2012)

Bureau of Indian Affairs Documents:
Press Release | Fact Sheet: North Fork Rancheria Decision | Section 20 Determination: North Fork Rancheria

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