Gov. Jerry Brown has given approval for two Indian tribes in remote parts of California to build casinos along freeways many miles from their land, setting the stage for what critics say could become an explosion in off-reservation gambling.
Brown's decision allows the Enterprise Rancheria near Marysville and the North Fork Rancheria near Fresno to move ahead with plans to have the federal government take land into trust on which the tribes will build casinos, each with 2,000 slot machines.
In a letter announcing his decision to Kenneth L. Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Brown said approval of the two casinos is unlikely to allow many other tribes to expand their gambling operations in the same way.
"I expect there will be few requests from other tribes that will present the same kind of exceptional circumstances to support a similar expansion of tribal gaming land," Brown wrote.
The Enterprise casino is planned near Highway 65 in Yuba County; the North Fork casino is planned on Highway 99 in Madera County. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approved both projects a year ago and sent them to Brown for final determination, setting off a massive lobbying effort in the state Capitol.
The North Fork and Enterprise tribes are backed by a Las Vegas casino owner, a Chicago racetrack developer, several construction unions, a lobbyist who is a Democratic fundraiser and another whose relationship with Brown goes back to the 1970s.
On the other side, urging Brown to reject the casino proposals, were several wealthy gambling tribes who said competition from new casinos would harm their business, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein and several California congressmen who said the projects would set a new precedent permitting off-reservation casinos.
Tribes are likely to fight Brown's decision in court, said David Quintana, a lobbyist who represents several casino-owning tribes that oppose the projects.
"These decisions change the face of tribal gaming as we know it in California," he said.
Investors will now try to move tribes to the most profitable markets possible, Quintana said, instead of building projects on existing tribal land. He and other opponents argued that the projects violate the law California voters passed in 2000, when they approved what the voter handbook called "gambling on tribal lands."
Supporters argued that the North Fork and Enterprise tribes historically moved around a large area that includes their current rancherias in the mountains and the proposed casino locations on the valley floor. They said the projects will bring self-sufficiency to Indians who have long lived in poverty - and thousands of jobs to hardscrabble Central Valley towns.