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Feinstein Directs Interior to Review Gaming Decisions for Two Rancherias

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has directed the Interior Department to revisit its decision to approve land into trust for gaming facilities for two California rancherias: the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians in Yuba County and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians in Madera County.

Interior’s Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk approved the trust applications in early September. The Enterprise Rancheria plans to operate a gaming facility on 40 acres of land in Yuba, County, California, which is 36 miles south of the tribe’s headquarters in Oroville in Butte County. The Enterprise Rancheria has around 800 members and currently only 40 acres of land in trust, which have been held in trust since 1915 and are currently used for residential purposes, according to the Interior Department. The Tribe originally submitted its application in 2002. The proposed facility would include 1,700 machines, and an eight-story, 170-room hotel. The BIA estimates the casino would yield annual net revenues of $46.2 million by year seven, with $19.3 million in cash available to the Tribe’s government in year seven.

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians proposes a gaming facility with 2,500 gaming machines and a 200-room hotel on 305 acres of land in Madera County, California—36 miles southwest of the tribe’s headquarters in North Fork, and 38 miles driving distance from its existing trust lands. The North Fork Rancheria has 1,750 members and currently has only 80 acres of land in trust, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, four miles east of the town of North Fork, California. Those lands are currently used for residential purposes. The BIA estimates that the casino would generate net revenues of $53.8 million by year seven, with $19 million in cash available to the Tribe’s government in year seven.

Feinstein, a noted opponent of what she calls “off-reservation gaming,” inserted additional language into the massive Interior Department appropriations bill in a conference committee December 16. The bill was approved by the Senate the next day. Feinstein’s addition says that the committee conferees were “concerned” about an alleged “lack of support” for the two proposed casinos. She directed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to review the applications “to verify the claim of ‘strong local support’” and report back to the committees within 60 days after the bill was enacted.

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A recent survey by Stand Up for California, an anti-casino citizens’ group that particularly targets Indian casinos says on its website say that a recent poll in commission shows “69 percent of Yuba County voters oppose building off reservation casinos altogether and 73 percent feel that tribes should get permission from the voters before moving forward with such projects. The poll found that 63 percent of Yuba County voters specifically opposed the Enterprise Rancheria casino while only 32 percent support.”

"Those numbers contradict Interior Department decisions to move forward with new casinos in both counties, especially since those decisions were based on 'strong local support,'" Feinstein said, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Cheryl Schmidt, of Stand Up for California, told Indian Country Today Media Network that 1,400 statewide respondents took part in the poll, but only 300 of them were in Yuba County. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Yuba County is 72,155, which renders the 300 respondents statistically insignificant.

In a September 23 letter, Feinstein urged Gov. Jerry Brown to reject the Bureau of Indian Affair’s (BIA) approval of applications. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the governor has veto power over the land into trust acquisition. The governor of California has one year to concur in Echo Hawk’s determinations on the Enterprise Rancheria and the North Fork Rancheria before the parcels can be acquired in trust for each tribe to conduct gaming. If the governor does not concur in the Assistant Secretary’s determination for each tribe, or if he simply does not respond to a request to concur, then the tribes may not conduct gaming on the proposed site.