Voter turnout for this Tuesday’s election is projected to be lower than any general election in a generation. And it’s no wonder; we are in a blue state, so the statewide partisan races are largely inconsequential. And while six measures are on the ballot, none of them is a “wow” issue that would cause voter participation to spike. This column is devoted to encouraging you, if you do decide to vote, to cast a “yes” vote for what may be the most obscure measure of them all — Proposition 48, the ratification of a small gaming compact with a small Indian tribe in Central California.
While I will elaborate below, for those who care so little about this issue that this paragraph is as far as you will get before re-aiming your browser in a more interesting direction, simply put, the North Forks Indian Tribe had their ancestral reservation lands stripped from them back in the 1970s. Through a complicated, decade-long process, they got some other land designated by the federal government as their new reservation land, after proving to the satisfaction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs that their tribe had a legitimate historical nexus to the site.
North Forks (surprise!) wants to put in a casino, and the Governor signed and the legislative ratified a compact with them to do just that. Existing Indian Gaming tribes, not interested in more competition in their marketplace (which is already a monopoly) plunked down big bucks to force this compact to a public vote, and they are spending bigger bucks to now defeat it. As a conservative, I oppose this sort of government use to manipulate markets. So I’m voting yes, to support the North Forks compact.
If you are still with me, I will take the time to elaborate just a little more.
If you have never heard of the roughly 2,000-member North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, I can assure you that you are not a member of the State Legislature. Last year, Governor Brown signed a gaming compact with this tribe, which the legislature then ratified.
In March of 2000, voters by nearly a two-thirds margin approved Prop. 1A. In doing so, voters passed an initiative which, according to the Attorney General’s summary, “Modifies existing gambling prohibitions to authorize Governor to negotiate compacts with federally recognized Indian tribes, subject to legislative ratification, for operation of slot machines, lottery games, and banking and percentage card games on Indian lands.”
Nearly 60 tribes were immediate beneficiaries of Prop. 1A, and more tribes have benefitted from it since then. Indian casinos proliferate California, from the Elk Valley Casino in Crescent City to the Red Earth Casino in Imperial County. By my count, there are opportunities to gamble your money away (or win big) at Indian casinos in 27 counties.
The idea, of course, is that gaming generates revenue, which helps the members of Indian tribes (a traditionally economically challenged group), and then there are gaming proceeds that enhance the state’s coffers, as well.
Enter the North Fork Tribe. In the 1960s, the tribe was terminated as a result of an act of Congress. In 1983, through litigation, North Fork regained its status as a tribe, but they were “landless” because their lands had been distributed. (There is a family within their tribe who individually owns some of their ancestral land, but that family cannot be compelled to give it up). Fortunately for the North Fork Tribe, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act sets forth a process for such “landless” tribes to acquire future lands in trust that would qualify for gaming – an arduous, lengthy process, requiring a historical connection to the site, support from the local community, and approval from the state’s governor.
Fast-forward into this millennium, and the North Fork Tribe begins this process, starting with the acquisition of land in nearby Madera County, and starts through the vigorous federal approval process. Ultimately, despite vigorous opposition from other tribes – after nearly a decade – last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior, with the concurrence of Governor Brown, placed this 305-acre parcel in Madera County, right off of Highway 99, into trust for North Folk; it was now tribal land, eligible to be the site for a gaming casino.
Governor Brown signs a compact with North Folk, similar to those already signed with other tribes, laying out the details of the casino, funding for local infrastructure, and tithing to the Tribal Nations Grant Fund (for other tribes that do not have gaming). Worthy of mention is that part of this compact makes accommodation for sharing a portion of gaming profits with another tribe, the Wiyots, whose reservation is on the coast of Humboldt County. It was a priority for some that this pristine area not be developed, and in return for not putting gaming on their own land, the Wiyots will share in the profits of the North Fork casino.
Note: Indian Tribes, under federal law, can have gaming on their tribal lands without any compact with the state in which they reside. But by having a compact, it increases the types of gambling that is permitted.
It may not surprise you that other tribes heartily oppose the ratification. Locally, some tribes aren’t interested in having North Folk come in and provide competition that will cut into their profits. One tribe in particular, the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, who own a resort and casino not too far from the North Fork site, was very vocal in its opposition throughout the federal approval process. Interestingly, the Picayune Rancheria invested in a major expansion of its casino in the latter part of the last decade.
Which highlights a fundamental point — North Forks did everything the right way. A pathway was laid out for tribes such a North Folk to follow — a very difficult and time-consuming path. So difficult, in fact, that it will make situations such as this one very rare, I suspect. I think there was a very reasonable expectation on the part of the North Folk Tribe that if they did go through this process to have this property designated as tribal land, they would be able to negotiate a compact just like every other tribe has done.
The appropriate place to argue against designation of that land as tribal land was in the federal process, and tribes (notably the Picayune) did exactly that, but did not succeed. Now this smacks of sour grapes because the North Folk property, in fact, enjoys the very same status as every other tribal land. North Folk just followed the process as it was laid out before them.
Whether you are more compelled with the argument that stopping other gaming tribes from manipulation of the ballot process system to use government to stifle competition — or whether you think that after following the formal process that was outlined for North Forks, which took over a decade, they have done things the right way — I urge you to ratify the compact, and vote “yes” on Prop. 48.