SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A Central Valley Indian tribe will be allowed to build a casino along a major highway north of Fresno under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate, despite concerns that the compact sets a precedent of allowing off-reservation gambling.
The compact permits the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to build the casino nearly 40 miles from the tribe's reservation.
The U.S. Department of Interior and Gov. Jerry Brown previously approved the arrangement, deciding that the Madera County location along Highway 99 has historic ties to the 1,900-member tribe.
Opponents said the state's approval of one off-reservation casino could lead to Las Vegas-style gambling in urban areas. Even some lawmakers who voted for the bill expressed concern.
"Who is next? Where are we going to place the next casino?" said Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. "We cannot be jammed like this again, and we have to set a clear perimeter when it comes to these important issues of off-reservation gaming."
He is joining Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, in forming a bipartisan panel of senators and Assembly members, who plan to meet with gambling tribes, card room owners, opponents and other groups in an attempt to develop a statewide policy to guide similar decisions in the future.
Both lawmakers voted for the bill, AB277, which was sent to Brown on a 22-11 roll call that split both political parties.
The bill also ratifies an unusual agreement with the Wiyot Tribe, which agreed not to open a casino on its Humboldt County property in exchange for receiving some of the revenue from the Madera County casino.
Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, urged lawmakers to approve the compact so the North Coast tribe would not build on the shores of Humboldt Bay, an area that was once ringed with lumber mills but now is adjacent to a wildlife refuge.
"The air is again clear and the water is again swimmable, if you can stand the cold, and the fish have come back," Evans said. "I'm pleading with my colleagues to consider the environmental impacts on Humboldt Bay if this compact is not approved."
Both tribes could build casinos on their respective reservations without the compact.
The agreement negotiated by Brown provides benefits to other tribes and Madera County. The Highway 99 casino will create much-needed jobs in the San Joaquin Valley, said Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, who carried the bill in the Senate.
The North Fork compact, which was approved by the governor last August, will let the tribe operate up to 2,000 slot machines.
The 80 acres the federal government set aside in 1916 for tribal members is not appropriate for a casino, tribal members said in arguing for the other location. Their reservation near the town of North Fork, about 45 miles northeast of Fresno in the Sierra, is near the south end of Yosemite National Park and is surrounded by a national forest.