MADERA COUNTY – The North Fork Mono Rancheria hopes to break ground on their new casino early next year. The 305-acre project is located adjacent to Highway 99, between Avenue 17 and 18, just north of Madera.
Charles Banks-Altekruse, owner of CA Consulting, and Communications Team member for the North Fork Mono Rancheria, addressed a Town Hall meeting in Oakhurst on Nov. 16, expressing optimism that the project has overcome all the hurdles of the arduous approval process with the local, state and federal governments, and that things can now move forward.The Tribe is awaiting the Record of Decision, designating the Mono to have historic, modern and legal connection to the land, which Altekruse says could come any day now. Gov. Jerry Brown concurred with the Department of the Interior’s decision to place the land in trust for the North Fork Rancheria on Aug. 30.
“I’m excited that we will finally get to stop talking about where the project is, and actually move toward creating revenue to invest in the community,” said Altekruse.
“Whatever you think of casinos, it’s one of the last options that have been left to tribes to try to raise monies for the support of their citizens and their communities,” said Altekruse.
“Tribal governments invest in programs for housing, education, health care, environmental issues and economic development. We’re very excited about the foundations we’ve set up to invest in Eastern Madera County’s economic activities and charities.”
Governor Jerry Brown not only concurred with the federal decision that designated the 305-acre parcel to be Mono land, he also gave the Tribe a state gaming compact that establishes the rules and conditions by which the Tribe conducts gaming, and how the revenues are dispersed.
The compact allows for the operation of 2,000 slot machines, and requires regular audits of gaming operations and other enforcement and public safety measures. It must still be ratified by the state legislature.
The Tribe estimates that the project will create approximately 750 construction jobs and 1,500 jobs at the new facility.
Altekruse says there are some interesting aspects of the 200-page compact.
“What the governor did is to build in provisions. The compact not only lays out what we give back to the community and the Tribe, but we’re actually sponsoring two other tribes,” he said.
The North Fork Mono Rancheria has been partnering with the Wiyot Tribe in northern California since their original compact with Governor Schwarzenneger.
The Wiyot have agreed not to build a casino on the environmentally sensitive lands on Humbolt Bay, which is their traditional land, in exchange for what could amount to $4 to $5 million a year from the proceeds of the Mono casino, according to Altekruse.
The North Fork Mono Rancheria is also required to “make revenue sharing payments to the Chukchansi Indian Tribe to mitigate potential competitive impacts on that tribe,” the compact states.
“The Chukchansi have been in some economic difficulties and the governor wanted to make sure that we are able to assist them in getting over some short-term financial hurdles,” said Altekruse. He estimates those payments could amount to some $3 to $5 million a year, and will be payable every quarter through June 30, 2020.
The compact states that the payments to the Chukchansi will terminate if they engage in any legal challenges to the compact.
The North Fork tribe has also agreed not to operate a hotel on the property until after July 1, 2018, also to mitigate potential impact on the Chukchansi casino.
Altekruse says the North Fork Mono Rancheria will never get wealthy from this casino. “We’re not like Table Mountain, with about 50 adult citizens. We have nearly 2,000, the largest restored tribe in California. We want to be able to invest in our citizens and in the broader community, and help build up North Fork.”
Best case scenario, they could be ready to break ground early next year, said Altekruse.
“Of course, the best case scenario has never happened in this process,” he said. “The one thing that could hold us up right now would be lawsuits, and we hope that doesn’t happen. There are people who make their living filing frivolous lawsuits.
“Every year of delay costs Madera County $100 million in economic activity, about $5 million in direct investment, and costs these other tribes money. We’re all hoping that the greed of a few small groups doesn’t outweigh those other aspects.”