Voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed a Native American tribe near Fresno to build a Las Vegas-style casino off its reservation, a proposal portrayed by opponents as a precedent-setting referendum expanding gaming beyond tribal lands.
With more than 3 million votes counted, 59 percent of voters cast ballots against Proposition 48.
The measure had asked voters to approve or reject a law passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown allowing the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians to build a Las Vegas-style casino with up to 2,000 slot machines nearly 40 miles from its reservation. The casino was proposed about 30 miles from Fresno and 25 miles from a casino operated by the Table Mountain Rancheria tribe.
That proximity had Table Mountain accusing North Fork of "reservation shopping'' to build a casino closer to an urban center.
North Fork said the 305-acre plot was used by the tribe in the 1850s and a casino would bring 4,500 jobs to the area.
Those opposed to the state law said they were thrilled with the result.
"This vote now puts the ball squarely in the state Legislature's court: They now can make a consistent policy on tribal gaming,'' said Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up for California, which opposed the proposal.
Tribal supporters said opponents — including wealthier tribes with competing gaming interests — had confused voters by construing the ballot measure as a referendum on the limits of gaming statewide instead of the one-tribe compact it was.
The defeat will not prevent the North Fork tribe from getting another gaming compact with the state and trying again, said tribal spokesman Charles Banks-Altekruse.
"If the voters of California don't like the agreement our tribe had with the state of California, what's next is we'll go back and get another agreement and we'll build the casino with another compact,'' he said. "That's what I guess the bottom line is.''
Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, tribes can build casinos on reservations that existed before Oct. 17, 1988, but not on land taken into trust after that date.
The law allows the secretary of Interior to make an exception in cases where the off-reservation land acquisition is in the tribe's best interest and does not hurt the surrounding community.
The U.S. Department of Interior has said North Fork Rancheria has a historical connection to the proposed gambling site and strong support from the community.
In a 2012 letter to then-Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar, Brown said he was reluctant to allow gambling on land currently ineligible for it, but there were several exceptional circumstances in the North Fork deal. Among them, Brown said, it would prevent a casino from going up on environmentally sensitive areas in Humboldt County.
In California, 58 tribes currently run 59 casinos.