Business · Madera

Construction on Highway 99 tribal casino set to launch in June

The long-awaited, long-contested off-reservation casino adjacent to Highway 99 just north of the City of Madera is set to break ground by the end of June.

Officials with Red Rock Resorts – the Las Vegas gaming firm and hotelier – confirmed that construction on the North Fork Indian tribe’s casino project was finally set to commence after a considerable legal battle contesting the tribe’s ability to construct a casino beyond the confines of its reservation.

The news was first reported by GV Wire.

During an investor conference call on May 4, Red Rock’s chief financial officer Stephen Cootey said that current estimates peg the time of construction to run between 15 to 18 months.

Beyond its Nevada-based holdings, which includes a portion of Station Casinos, a key segment of Red Rock Resorts’ business includes management of Native American casinos.

While announcing progress on the North Fork casino, Red Rock also announced the sale of its off-Strip property, Palms Casino Resort, to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

Progress on the Madera County-based, North Fork-owned casino can be charitably described as glacial.

Initially proposed by the tribe in 2003, it received critical support in the from former California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 and the California State Legislature ratified a gaming compact with the tribe.

In 2014, voters rejected the gaming compact with the tribe via Proposition 48. Following the electoral defeat of the agreement, Brown said that further negotiations over “would be futile.”

The claim sparked a cacophony of legal challenges, starting with the North Fork tribe alleging that Brown and the State of California were not negotiating in good faith. U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii ruled in favor of the tribe and ordered the state reach a new compact.

Three other challenges, contesting various procedural and legal elements, were waged by anti-gaming advocate group “Stand Up California,” Northern California-based United Auburn Indian Community of the Auburn Rancheria, and the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians.

The last tribe operates Madera County’s only other tribal casino, Coarsegold-based Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino.

The North Fork casino project is slated to include a 200-room hotel, however no other details about its amenities were released during the Red Rock conference call.

Red Rock’s Cootey pegged the cost of construction at between $350 and 400 million.

North Fork and Red Rock first struck a development agreement in 2016, with the Nevada gaming firm set to develop and, eventually, manage the casino.

According to SEC filings, Red Rock is set to earn 4 percent of the total cost of construction as its development fee. Based on Cootey’s estimates, that puts the Nevada gaming firm’s earning potential on construction at between $14 and 16 million.

Red Rock is also slated to receive a sizable 40 percent management fee on the casino’s net income, per the same SEC filings.

The casino is planned to have 2,000 slot machines and 40 table games.

Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.