Oroville casino to double down if Yuba casino is approved
Butte County casino operator Mooretown Rancheria has vowed to open a second casino in West Sacramento if Gov. Jerry Brown approves the competing Enterprise Rancheria casino project in Yuba County.
Though regulators have generally opposed putting tribal casinos in urbanized areas, approving Enterprise or the North Fork Rancheria project in Madera County would send a clear sign the old rules no longer apply, according to Mooretown Rancheria.
"We have again arrived at the place where the government is pulling the rug out from under us," Mooretown Tribal Chairman Gary Archuleta said on Wednesday in a press release announcing the plan. "We have played by the rules and now the government is going back on their promises, they are allowing, indeed encouraging tribes to move off their lands."
Mooretown and other tribes with casinos have opposed Enterprise Rancheria and North Fork because they said the sponsoring tribes were trying to build casinos far from their reservation lands, which are typically in rural areas.
Enterprise Rancheria representatives have said the tribe's ancestral lands include both Butte and Yuba counties, so putting a casino between Wheatland and Marysville doesn't co stitute off-reservation gambling.
Brown has until Aug. 31 to decide whether Enterprise, which would be near SleepTrain Amphitheatre in a designated "sports and entertainment" zone, or North Fork can take land into trust for a casino.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has already given both casino proposals the authorization to proceed.
By doing so, the federal government gave tacit blessing to off-reservation casinos, said Josh F.W. Cook, a political consultant working with Mooretown Rancheria.
"If the new rules are you can move, you can move," he said, adding the state giving final approval would constitute a serious change in public policy.
Mooretown Rancheria, which operates Feather Falls Casino near Oroville, received state approval for two casinos in its gaming compact with the state, finalized under then-Gov. Gray Davis.
Opening the second casino in West Sacramento would only require federal approval, according to Mooretown Rancheria.
Charles Altekruse, a spokesman for Enterprise Rancheria, said he couldn't comment on another tribe's plans.
"The tribe feels every tribe has a right to do what it needs to do to serve its tribal members," he said. "I'm not going to comment on what their motivations might be."
But the announcement did not surprise Cheryl Schmit, executive director of a group opposed to off-reservation casinos.
In the north Bay Area, a tribe based elsewhere has announced plans to put a casino in Petaluma in recent years, and others across the state have left options open to do so, said Schmit, of Stand Up for California!
"It's a change in public policy where the public has no voice," she said. "Nobody's asked us yet if we want to move off reservation."
If such decisions in the future are left to state and federal governments, Schmit said, she didn't know what argument could be used to reject a casino if Enterprise or North Fork weren't rejected despite similar reasons to do so.
Doug Elmets, a spokesman for the tribal Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln, also said the announcement just confirms what others tribes have feared.
"The United Indian Auburn Community played by the rules and located a tribe on aboriginal territory," he said. "We're concerned about the precedent set if these casinos are approved."
However, both Mooretown Rancheria and United Auburn Indian Community established casinos away from land originally on their reservations, though the designations were eventually changed.
Given changes in federal policy, such a precedent would probably follow across the country, Elmets said, adding his casino has no option to build a second site, nor has any plans to pursue one.
The governor's office has not commented on how soon, or on what merits, Brown will make his decision.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.