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Madera Casino Plan Can Proceed Over Objections

(CN) - A federal judge refused to shelve plans for a new Madera casino amid objections from a group of concerned California citizens and a nearby competitor.

In 2011, the government said that the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians could conduct gaming in an unincorporated portion of Madera County.

The following year, the U.S. Department of the Interior acquired a 305-acre parcel of land in trust on behalf of the tribe.

Unhappy with the decision, Stand Up for California led a group of concerned citizens and community groups to stop the project.

A federal judge consolidated that case with another complaint filed by the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, which operate the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino just 30 miles from the Madera site.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, D.C., refused to grant the requested injunction Tuesday.

Stand Up had argued that then-interior Secretary Ken Salazar failed to consider how the casino would harm families and social services, increase prostitution, and cause other negative changes in the area.

Howell concluded, however, that "none of these points is likely to succeed on their merits because the secretary appears to have considered all aspects of the problem that he was required to consider."

The court "must confer significant deference to the secretary's expertise," he added.

It is also of note that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act "does not require that a new gaming development be completely devoid of any negative impacts," according to the ruling.

"The plaintiffs' reading of the IGRA would essentially preclude any new gaming establishments since every gaming establishment is highly likely to entail some negative impacts on the surrounding community," Howell wrote.

Stand Up also failed to show that Salazar failed to adequately consider alternative sites for the proposed casino.

The secretary "appears to have considered a reasonable range of alternatives and provided a rational and concise explanation of why each potential alternative was rejected from further consideration," according to the ruling.

Public interest and irreparable harm concerns do not an injunction, either, the court found.

"Absent a demonstrated likelihood that the secretary has acted improperly in transferring the Madera site into trust for the purpose of developing a gaming establishment, enjoining that agency action would not be in the public interest," Howell wrote. "Since the agency's actions were ostensibly in furtherance of Congress' judgment that Indian tribes must, in appropriate circumstances, be given the opportunity to pursue economic self-sufficiency and strong tribal government through gaming, the court would be remiss to stand in the way absent that the agency has acted in likely contravention of its statutory responsibilities."

The Department of the Interior is set to transfer the site in Madera into trust on Feb. 1, 2013.

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