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Tribes Fight Over New Casino in California

MADERA, Calif. (CN) - The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians sued California to try to block another tribe's plan to build a casino near its own complex.

The March 21 complaint in Madera County Court challenges Gov. Jerry Brown's concurrence in a 2012 U.S. Department of the Interior decision that put into trust 305 acres off Highway 99 for the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians.

North Fork Rancheria is in a remote and environmentally sensitive area in the Madera County foothills near Yosemite National Forest. The site of the proposed casino and hotel is 38 miles away from the Rancheria and not on ancestral homeland.

California and North Fork entered into the North Fork Compact, which paved the way for the tribe and partner Station Casinos to build a gambling center with 2,000 slot machines, 40 table games and a hotel.

Though the compact was signed by the governor in 2012 and ratified by the Legislature in 2013, voters rejected it as Proposition 48 in November 2014. More than 60 percent of voters rejected the compact between North Fork and the state, prompting Brown to pull back from negotiations with the tribe.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii ruled in November that the state had failed to negotiate in good faith under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and ordered the state to reach a new gaming compact with North Fork.

Chukchansi's Gold Resort & Casino is about 30 miles from the site of the proposed casino. North Fork's site is near Highway 99, one of the busier roads in the Central Valley; Chukchansi's casino is in the more remote Coarsegold, in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The Chukchansi say that Brown's agreement to the earlier North Fork compact is void because of the vote on Prop. 48.

"The new North Fork scheme not only ignores the will of California's voters, it would undo decades of tribal gaming regulations and open the floodgates for off-reservation casinos to go up in any land in the state," Chukchansi Chairwoman Claudia Gonzales said in a statement.

She wants Brown "to listen to the overwhelming voice of Californians and stop the North Fork plan once and for all."

According to the lawsuit, Brown's agreement to the compact came with conditions, including mitigation for the only tribe likely to be affected by the new casino, the Picayune Rancheria.

Picayune says Brown's concurrence is now void because the compact that addressed those concerns was rejected by voters.

"Unfortunately, the North Fork Tribe and their out-of-state investors and special interests have made it clear they intend to ignore California's voters and decades of compacts. We are standing on the side of California's voters and their decisions," Gonzales said.

Gonzales and leaders of three other tribes this month sent an email to other California tribes asking them to join in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, asking that she restrict the North Fork tribe to gambling on its "initial reservation lands."

North Fork Tribal Council Chairwoman Maryann McGovran responded by sending her own letter to fellow tribes , urging them to reject the letter, which she says "asks the Secretary to ignore her duty under federal law and defer to the California Legislature and the state's voters."

McGovran said it would be "extremely detrimental to tribes to support these few tribes' effort to amend IGRA and strike a blow to our shared sovereignty in pursuit of their narrow, short-sighted agenda."

Chukchansi, represented by Steven Bloxham with Fredericks Peebles & Morgan, seeks writ of mandate directing Brown to vacate and set aside his concurrence in the North Fork Compact.

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