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Howard Stutz

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Indian casino development near Fresno gets Interior department approval

24 Oct 2013

By Howard Stutz
A central California Native American tribe won approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior late Tuesday to proceed on a casino development near Fresno that will be built and managed by Station Casinos, Inc.

A 20-year compact between the state and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians was approved by the Interior Department, which will allow development of a $350 million casino north of Madera off Highway 99. The site is 25 miles north of Fresno.

The project has been in the works since 2003, when the tribe signed a development and management deal with Station Casinos.

The project’s opponents are trying to collect enough signatures to hold a statewide ballot referendum during the November 2014 election that could halt the development. Gov. Jerry Brown approved the compact with the tribe this year.

“The approval by the Department of the Interior was a key development, but construction for the project is likely pending until the referendum issue is resolved,” Union Gaming Group Managing Director Bill Lerner told investors Wednesday.

The compact allows the North Fork casino to have 2,000 slot machines and 50 table games.

Opponents are trying to stop the casino because its site is 36 miles southwest of the tribe’s established reservation.

The groups have gathered 800,000 signatures that are being verified by county elections offices across California. At least 504,760 signatures are needed to put the referendum on the ballot next year. Verification of the signatures may take until January.

Opponents said Proposition 1-A, which passed 13 years ago, allows Indian gaming only on a tribe’s originally restored lands. If the ballot measure qualifies, the casino plans would be put on hold pending the referendum’s outcome.

A spokesman for the North Fork Mono Indians told the Fresno Bee that the land near Highway 99 north of Madera was traditional land and that their claim is backed by state and federal officials. They also contend that their reservation has 61 acres designated for housing only, under federal Housing and Urban Development rules.

Station Casinos is managing the $800 million Graton Resort and Casino, which is about 50 miles north of San Francisco and slated to open Nov. 5. The company is working with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria on the development.

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