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County supervisor defends Madera casino

Congressman Denham, the Madera County Board of Supervisors must express our deep dismay and disappointment with not only the substance of the draft H.R. 5079 legislation but also your personal participation in this wildly unfair and misdirected attempt at lawmaking.

If this legislation is inconceivably passed into law, it will accomplish absolutely nothing constructive — except putting at risk over 12 years of cooperation between our community and the North Fork Rancheria (“Tribe”). We hope you will seriously reconsider your sponsorship of H.R. 5079, preferably withdrawing it in advance of the scheduling of any hearing.

As you know, Madera County is repeatedly on record as supporting the North Fork gaming project, joining every local jurisdiction, business chamber, and employment and economic development agency in having either a formal position of support or a standing partnership agreement with the tribe concerning its project.

Support for the project stems from several factors, including the enormous positive employment and economic benefits it will bring to our region as well as the careful, respectful, collaborative approach taken by the tribe to engage the community, mitigate any significant potential impacts, and contribute generously through local MOU agreements — benefits you personally called out over a decade ago during the Senate GO Committee Hearing held here in Madera:

“We’ve seen North Fork come to the table early, work with local government and come up with mitigating some of the challenges that we see here in the valley, everything from unemployment to some of the need for transportation funding and for the law enforcement funding. So I believe this is unprecedented. And I think this is a good-faith attempt to work government to government in some of these negotiations.” (Sen. Jeff Denham)

The fact is that for more than 12 years the North Fork Rancheria has diligently pursued its gaming project as specifically allowed by federal law and prevailed through every local, state, and federal administrative review and approval. For the past four years, the tribe has responded to and overcome every legal challenge put forth by wealthy gaming tribes and their investors, intended to delay or diminish the project.

Now at the 11th hour, this unprecedented legislative maneuver seeks to undo all this work and progress and merely add to the already enormous costs incurred by the tribe and community as a result of such cynical tactics.

This last minute attempt to change the rules (that have applied to other California tribes for more than 20 years) will not remove the tribe’s land in Madera from being in trust nor will it remove the tribe’s right to conduct gaming on that land.

By denying the North Fork Rancheria the right to operate Class III gaming, H.R. 5079 will end up simply forcing the tribe to operate Class II gaming that kills jobs and economic opportunities.

It does this by preventing the investment that accompanies the “highest and best” economic use of the land, jeopardizes local MOU and non-gaming tribe payments as well as worker and customer protections required by secretarial procedures, and undermines state participation in the regulation of gaming on the land.

It punitively and retroactively penalizes a tribe and community that followed all existing rules, unjustly removes a reasonable, fair legal remedy for bad faith dealings, and, upends 30 years of established federal Indian gaming law (IGRA) to the detriment of tribes across the nation.

In summary, Madera County has seen firsthand the enormous benefits tribal-government gaming can bring to a community when done right. Sadly, we’ve also experienced firsthand the economic costs of lost jobs and revenues caused by out-of-control greed and politics. We vastly prefer the former scenario as represented by the North Fork project. Our region desperately needs new jobs and development, and this project offers financial rewards for both the county and state.

Delay and obstruction of this project have already cost our region thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic benefits. This must end! We look forward to the jobs and economic development the North Fork Project will bring to the tribe and our county and formally ask that you withdraw your support for the proposed H.R. 5079 legislation and do everything possible to prevent its passage.

— Rick Farinelli, Chairman on Behalf of the Madera County Board of Supervisors

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