The Senate approved on Thursday a controversial gambling compact to allow the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians to build a casino in Madera County.
The vote marked the final step in a lengthy and unconventional ratification process. The North Fork tribe had to seek approval from the federal government, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to build a casino some 35 miles away from their ancestral lands.
Allowing the tribe to choose this site sparked concern from legislators about setting a precedent of "reservation shopping" instead of building only on tribal lands. Competing tribal casinos also opposed the compact, and both sides spent heavily on campaign contributions and lobbyists to make their case.
After a heated debate, the compact cleared the 40-member Senate with one vote to spare, 22-11.
Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, touted the economic benefits the casino would bring Madera County residents, tribe members and the state.
"This is not a vote to say will there or will there not be gaming on the site that North Fork has. There will be gaming," Wright said. "The only thing that you are voting on today is whether or not the state will get any benefits from the gaming."
The compact also includes a revenue sharing agreement with the Wiyot tribe in Humboldt County. Wright also said that negotiations are ongoing for a possible revenue sharing agreement between the North Fork tribe and nearby Chukchansi tribe, which has opposed the casino.
Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said although he supported the North Fork compact, he hoped a working group of legislators and stakeholders could find a more streamlined process for confirming off-site reservation casinos for the future.
"We cannot piecemeal our way continuously and we cannot be caught in the cross hairs of so many interests," de León said.
PHOTO: People crowd around the Midi Baccarat tables at the Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Rocklin in June 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton