It was a 20-year wait. But the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians can start building a casino resort in the San Joaquin Valley.
The tribe and developer Station Casinos announced earlier this month that North Fork received federal authorization to construct a 305-acre facility in Madera County, north of Fresno.
Not only does it add another option among California tribal casinos to the mix. It also gives Station Casinos another crack at the Golden State’s casino industry. It re-joins just a handful of commercial operators with a tribal partnership in California.
Caesars Entertainment operates Harrah’s Southern California thanks to a deal with the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians. Thunder Valley Casino, just outside Sacramento, is a “Preferred Partner” of MGM Resorts. Although iGaming still feels like a distant dream in the state, land-based access to the market will give companies like MGM, Caesars, and now Station Casinos an inside track to mobile licenses with CA online sports betting and, eventually, online casinos in CA become legal.
Station Casinos helped Thunder Valley when it first opened and also helped manage Graton Casino as well. This is their third tribal partnership in California.
The tribe has not set a date when construction will begin but expects to break ground this year.
A long road to casino approval
There are close to 70 casinos in California. Native American tribes own all of them. However, the North Fork Rancheria tribe is one of the few partnering with a non-tribal company to operate the property.
Fred Beihn, chairperson of the North Fork Rancheria, said the tribe is excited to finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
“The North Fork Rancheria is delighted with the approval of the management contract with our development partner, Station Casinos. Our tribe is grateful to have a partner so committed to the principles of tribal sovereignty and to bringing the full benefits of tribal gaming to our tribe and community.”
The tribe had its federal recognition terminated in 1961. Then, the tribe regained its status in 1983 and has 2,500 current members.
North Fork Rancheria began the quest to build a casino in 2003. The US Department of the Interior took the site of the casino project into trust for the tribe’s benefit 10 years later, in February 2013.
Hurdles to get federal approval for the casino also included a legal challenge from the owners of the only other casino in Madera County. The Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, who operate Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, filed a lawsuit in 2016 against the Interior Department opposing North Fork’s plans.
With the lawsuits settled, and the federal go-ahead, the tribe can now look to the future with the lawsuit settled and all other obstacles overcome.
Project includes 100,000-square-foot casino
The project could bring at least 1,000 jobs to the area, Scott Kreeger, president of Station Casinos, recently told the Fresno Bee.
“We are excited to help the tribe bring this exciting project to fruition, fostering economic prosperity for the surrounding community and tribal members through the creation of permanent job opportunities.”
The future site of the North Fork casino is adjacent to Highway 99 north of Madera. Details of the project include:
- A 100,000-square-foot casino
- Over 2,000 slot and video poker machines
- 40 table games, including blackjack, Pai Gow and three-card poker
- Dining and beverage options
There is no timeline for the construction of the casino, Charlie Altekruse, a spokesperson for the tribe, told the Bee.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 20 years, it’s that making hard claims about the timing has been fraught with challenges. So, we haven’t set a specific time for groundbreaking, but we definitely expect it to happen this year.”