Nearly two decades ago, a joint venture between a casino developer and a California tribe was put on hold by a legal squabble. After the California Supreme Court finally weighed in, it looks like a North Fork tribal casino project is finally going to move forward.
The court gave the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and Red Rock Resorts the result they wanted last week. Now the work on building an off-reservation gambling facility near Fresno begins.
What was tying up the North Fork tribal casino?
In essence, this was another chapter in the intricate, long story of the rivalry between commercial and tribal gaming interests in California. The legal question before the court was whether the governor of California can unilaterally agree to gaming compacts with tribes, or whether such agreements have to go through the state legislature as well.
The justices ruled that is within the governor’s powers as long as the US Dept. of the Interior also approved the compact in question. Current Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to approve the compact.
The Interior Department agreed to take a 305-acre tract of land near Madera off Highway 99 into trust for the tribe in 2011, for the express purpose of the casino. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown gave his approval to the project the following year.
At that point, commercial gaming interests in the area challenged Brown’s approval, arguing he overextended his office’s authority. Through the course of several appeals, the complaint finally reached the California Supreme Court in 2017.
Red Rock Resorts first established a relationship with the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in 2003. At that time, the company felt the 61-acre reservation was too small for a casino.
The current development contract between Red Rock and the tribe expires later this year. The two parties intend to extend it, however.
That will be crucial for the casino’s development as things move forward. Red Rock is going to handle most aspects of getting the casino from concept to reality.
What we know about the future tribal casino near Madera
Red Rock is still very aggressive on this project despite the near two-decade delay. Bob Finch, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Red Rock Resorts, made that clear in the press release.
“This ruling has been a long time coming for the tribe and we are thrilled to be able to move forward with them on this very attractive project. We expect that the tribe will be announcing more details regarding the casino in the near future.”
Original plans called for an investment of $350 million into building the facility. That included 2,000 slot machines, 40 gaming tables and a 200-room hotel.
Preliminary plans after the court victory have construction starting sometime in the next 18 to 30 months. Given the long delay because of litigation, it’s possible that Red Rock wants to move on this in the shortest timeline possible.
California cardroom operators in the area, like the 500 Club Casino in Fresno, likely prefer a longer time frame. The presence of a tribal casino just 30 miles away could cut into their business.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, there is little that cardroom operators in the area can do. The competition for gambling dollars in Northern California is about to get more intense.