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Proposition 48: A North Fork in the Road for Tribal Casinos

Litigation Los AngelesEnvironmental and Business Litigation  

Stephen T. Holzer



Continuing our series on the 2014 California election ballot, we now turn to Proposition 48, the Referendum on Indian Gaming Compacts.

Tribal Casinos Prop 48

If voters approve the referendum November 4th, Native American tribes may be able to open casinos on properties not owned by the reservations – for the first time in California history. Specifically, approval would permit the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians (North Fork Tribe) to proceed with building a casino in an economically depressed area of the San Joaquin Valley.  

Essentially, Prop 48 will: 

  • Ratify California Assembly Bill 277: Signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013, AB 277 ratified a 2012 compact between California and the North Fork Tribe, as well as a 2013 compact between the state and the Wiyot Tribe.

  • Exempt Compacts from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA): AB 277 would give the North Fork and Wiyot tribes an exemption from complying with CEQA, which normally requires a lead agency to obtain an environmental impact report for each project.

Prop 48 a Bad Deal for Some

The opposition to Proposition 48 includes Senator Diane Feinstein, a long list of large and small news publications, various state assembly members and representatives, some grass roots organizations and certain city officials. The essence of the opposition arguments are that: 

  1. Prop 48 breaks the tribes' promises (California Prop 1A) to build casinos only on tribal property.

  2. The North Fork Tribe wants to build a Vegas-style casino in the Central Valley closer to freeways – which could ignite a gold rush for even more casino building.

  3. The state won't benefit, as no gaming revenues will be allocated to California schools, or the general fund. Additionally, Prop 48 won't create new jobs, as the proposed new casino will simply take resources from already established casinos.

  4. A Las Vegas casino operator (Station Casinos) will actually run the proposed facility.

  5. Prop 48 will take away open spaces (the proposed plot for development is 305 acres) and create more air pollution and traffic. Additionally, it could significantly drain California's water supply.

All In for Prop 48

Needless to say, Prop 48 supporters rebut all of the above. On the "yes" side, we find Governor Brown, the Los Angeles Times, the California Democratic Party, several labor organizations, and "all" Madera politicians, government units and Chambers of Commerce. They claim Prop 48 will:

  1. Build on federally-held, historical tribal lands at no cost to California tax payers.

  2. Keep local control of a project that has strong community support.

  3. Benefit the government – revenues will be allocated at the local and state levels, but also with 70 other tribes that do not have casinos. The referendum could create approximately 4,000 jobs.

  4. Keep local control of a community-supported project.

  5. Protect lands in the Sierra foothills and near Yosemite, since the referendum will allow the North Fork Tribe (whose reservation is located in those areas) to develop an off-reservation casino.

  6. Promote self-sufficiency for the tribe.

Playing the Wild Card

Though the support team has the bigger names and organizations going to bat, it's the opposition that is flush with campaign funds: Team Yes raised just under $400K (primarily from Station Casinos), while Team No is closer to $9M (primarily from competing tribes with casinos).


Stephen T. Holzer is an Environmental and Business Litigation Attorney. Call his direct line at 818.907.3299, or email him for more information:


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