Prop. 48: Indian Casinos on Somewhat-Indian Land Near Fresno

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on October 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

This is the third in a series about this year's California ballot propositions. Hopefully we can help sort out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to claims about what these propositions do and don't do. In case you missed them, here are our discussions of Proposition 46 and Proposition 47.

Once again, it's time to decide whether we want to extend gambling to another Indian reservation in California. This time, Proposition 48 proposes allowing the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians and the Wiyot Tribe to establish casinos. Approval of this proposition would ratify two Indian gaming compacts the state has already entered into with the tribes. But much of the discussion of Prop. 48 goes beyond the text of the instant legislation.

2 Tribes, 1 Casino

The North Fork Rancheria Mono Indians and the Wiyot Tribe want to jointly establish a casino project off the reservation (both Indians tribes' lands are located perilously close to wildlife refuges). Instead, the tribe proposed building their casino on a 305-acre plot of land in unincorporated Madera County, just north of Fresno.

So what's the big deal? Proposition 1A, which in 2000 authorized the creation of gaming compacts with Indian tribes, is limited to "federally recognized Indian tribes on Indian lands in California." The 305-acre plot isn't really within Mono or Wiyot tribal land, notes Cheryl Schmit, Executive Director of Stand Up for California, which opposes the bill.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does, however, allow a tribe to operate casinos on land acquired in trust by the Secretary of the Interior, which these tribes have. (Schmit says in a different op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that Prop. 1A "promised casinos would be located only on original reservation land." It actually promised no such thing.)

The Big Picture

Schmit's concern is that once Prop. 48 gets passed, other tribes will want to use the acquire-in-trust method to obtain more land and build more casinos closer to urban centers.

Proponents counter that the project would benefit the tribes and is really being opposed by other nearby tribes who fear both that the new joint casino project will compete with their smaller gaming concerns -- and that they'll lose the competition. The Los Angeles Times editorial board endorsed the project, dispelling concerns about "reservation shopping" by calling on the federal government to adopt stricter land-acquisition standards (yeah, right) and the governor to use caution when approving off-reservation projects (again: yeah, right).

These concerns, however, are speculative and can be addressed in the event they come to pass. In article after article, only one name comes up in opposition to the project. If you guessed Cheryl Schmit, you're a winner! Schmit has been opposed to Indian gaming since 1996, when she first fought the United Auburn Indian Community's attempts to build a casino in Placer County. Since then, she and her organization have generally opposed Indian gaming in California.

The project is expected to create thousands of jobs and generate billions in revenue for the state, the tribe, and the surrounding region. As Prop. 48's supporters suggest, that's why Californians should vote for it.

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