By The Rev. Randy Brannon
As a private citizen, and as a representative of The Madera Ministerial Association, I write to state our opposition to the proposed Gaming Casino of the North Fork Mono Indian Rancheria adjacent to the City of Madera in California. It seems that the voice of the public, and in particular, that of the voting citizen has been silenced, making it appear that this is the will of people of Madera. This silencing action began at the May 19, 2005, hearing held by Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, during which both pro and con arguments were stated regarding this project. When it was time for the general public to give its opinion, it was a resounding NO! Supervisor Vern Moss, the District 2 representative at that time, had repeatedly taken opinion polls of his constituents, finding that well over 70 percent of them, including my wife and I, were opposed to the casino.
Subsequent to this hearing, Senator Florez wrote an article in the Fresno Bee (Feb. 24, 2006, page B9) where he opposed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to embrace off-reservation gaming. He said: “Anything less than a resounding ‘no’ vote on the governor’s current proposed off-reservation compacts could mean the start of a new gaming arms race, with the potential proliferation of slots in every corner of our society, thus summarily destroying the dream of Native American economic self-sufficiency.”
Despite the adversity, including the financial problems of Stations Casinos and much opposition, the North Fork Rancheria continues to present a “done deal” posture to the community of Madera. Please consider some of the reasons for direct opposition, which are enough to cease consideration of this project:
First, no advisory vote of the entire general population has been taken. Two such polls of a small number of people have been taken with contrasting results, but never has the general population been allowed to vote on this issue. At a January 2012 meeting of he Madera County Board of Supervisors (4 to 1 affirmative vote) decided to send Senator Dianne Feinstein a letter that described the positive movement toward the building of this casino over the past few years, thus implying that there is countywide support for this project. No true local advisory vote of the entire population has been taken. Supervisor David Rogers, of district 2, and Irecommended that this issue be placed on the June 5th primary ballot for a yes/no vote that would tell the true story concerning the support of the casino. This suggestion was never discussed or moved on by the Board. Why not? Does not the will of all of the people of Madera Count?
Second, the land for this project is urban, not rural as portrayed by casino advocates. It stands on the edge of the city limits of Madera where future shopping malls are planned. It is only three miles from the heart of Madera and next to a residential area on the other side of State Route 99. In addition, we have been told by proper sources that 65,000 vehicles pass this site daily (no wonder the tribe wants this parcel) on an already two-lane congested roadway. Even if a third lane is opened in the future, the relief of some of this congestion will not warrant the placing of this casino there. It is obvious that the interest of Madera is not the main concern of the tribe. Jim Boren of the Fresno Bee (jboren at fresnobee.com) wrote a column on Feb. 19, 2006, in which he stated: “There’s a casino and hotel proposed for Highway 99 in Madera County. If approved, that area would quickly become urban (which it already is) and congested. With all the money at stake, the old rules about Indian gaming don’t seem to apply. Build them anywhere, and let the cash roll in. Find a good piece of property and push the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to put it in trust. The casino proposal in Madera County is typical of the new thinking by the tribes and their Nevada partners. Even though the public wants casinos on tribal land in rural areas, the tribes are pushing for more lucrative sites.”
Third, contrary to what the tribe states, the Casino is not a good short or long-term financial deal for Madera. The casino would be given an unfair advantage over local businesses, as it would not be subject to property taxes, local sales taxes, or transit occupancy taxes. Thus it will be able to charge less for food, lodging and special events.
Fourth, the tribe is leapfrogging the Chukchansi Indian reservation, looking at a site that is 40+ miles from their home, on the very edge of a rapidly expanding community. There is no evidence that this location was ever ancestral territory of the North Fork Mono tribe, this being substantiated by a St. Mary’s College/University of California anthropologist at the May 19, 2005 hearing in Madera before California State Senator Dean Florez. This report by the anthropologist has been ignored. It is most evident that the tribe has pinpointed the location that will bring the largest economic windfall to them.
Fifth, to support this proposal in any manner is gambling away the life and vitality of a beautiful, growing city. This is a moral issue. According to the 1999 final report of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, a study which substantiates the findings of other such studies, grave deleterious effects will be inflicted upon our community including: increase in crime; fostering of pathological and problem gamblers, including almost 15 percent of those who work at such a facility; destruction of families; financial ruin of individuals and families; increased domestic violence; more delinquent behavior by minors, including school truancy (Madera is already facing a crisis in this area); increased drug and alcohol use leading to addictions and associated manifestations; greater increase of prostitution; job loss by employees and lower productivity within many businesses; burden on the social services of the community; increase in suicide rate; and, increase in need for spiritual, emotional, and sociological counseling because of personal problems.
With these thoughts in mind, our public officials should stop giving consideration to the North Fork Mono Rancheria’s request to place the respective land into trust for gaming purposes, and should make a bold stand for the good of the people whom they represent. This request does not have the interest of the integrity and sanctity of our community in mind, but is strictly a financial endeavor for the Rancheria that would ultimately be damaging to our area. And to truly determine what is the will of the people, if the process to locate this casino continues, then a vote by the people should be included on the June 5th ballot.
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The Rev. Randy Brannon is pastor of Grace Community Church and a member of the Madera Ministerial Association.