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Opponents hold financial edge battle over tribal casino ballot initiative

Opponents hold financial edge battle over tribal casino ballot initiative
A gambler puts money into the slot machine at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon in 2008. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A statewide ballot measure for a off-reservation tribal casino in the Central Valley town of Madera faces stilff opposition for competing gaming tribes, who have far outraised supporters.

If approved by California voters in the Nov. 4 general election,  Proposition 48 would ratify an agreement between the state and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians  for a casino – with 2,000 slot machines – on land near Madera. The casino would be about 40 miles from the tribe's reservation.

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Supporters of the measure include the North Fork tribe and its Las Vegas partner, Station Casinos, as well as labor organizations – raising just over $384,000 in campaign contributions, state election records show.

Opponents include the New York-based Brigade Capital Management, an investment firm that supports a nearby tribal casino -- Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold -- and Table Mountain Rancheria, a tribe with a casino in Friant. The opponents have raised a total of $7.8 million to defeat the ballot measure, election records show.

"It's really David versus Goliath,'' said Charles Altekruse, spokesman for the "Yes on Prop. 48" campaign.  "California voters have supported indian gaming repeatedly. They did it to help tribes, and they did it to provide tribal self reliance and tribal opportunity."

Longtime tribal gaming opponent Cheryl Schmidt of Stand Up for California said the proposed ballot initiative violates a promise made to voters when the approved an expansion of tribal gaming in 2000.

"We were promised there would be no off-reservation gaming, and here it is,'' Schmidt said.

Money also poured into campaigns opposing a separate ballot measure that would give the state Insurance Commissioner new authority to approve or reject proposed health insurance rates if deemed "excessive."

Supporters collected more than $1.8 million in contributions in 2014, while political organizations opposing the proposition took in more than $24 million during that time.

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