Tuesday, May 11, 2021 | 2:31 p.m.
The Las Vegas company behind bringing a new Native American casino to Madera County is close to breaking ground, according to a high-ranking official close to the project.
The California State Supreme Court cleared the way in September for Las Vegas-based Red Rock Resorts to build North Fork Rancheria's casino off of Highway 99 near Avenue 18 just north of Madera, less than 40 miles east of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino and Table Mountain Casino.
The new casino could take about 18 months to finish once crews break ground, which is expected by the end of June, according to Stephen Cootey, chief financial officer for Red Rock, parent company of Station Casinos.
"As of now, the budget for the full completion of this project excluding any financing costs is expected to be between $350 million and $400 million," Cootey said May 4 in a call with investors.
He went on to say the project is expected to cover 213,000 square feet, including 100,000 square feet in casino space, plus 2,000 slots and 40 table games. There will also be two restaurants and a food hall.
Officials with the North Fork Rancheria, home to the Mono Indians, said more on the new casino may be available in the coming month or so but declined to discuss it on Monday, according to Charles Altekruse, spokesman for the North Fork Mono.
The success of new hospitality destinations in an area not already known to draw a large amount of tourists can be hard to predict, according to economist Jeffrey Michael from the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
"That's the tricky thing with a lot of hospitality, drawing new visitors or just diverting dollars from others nearby," he said.
But, Madera County officials are more confident of the long-term success of the new casino that's taken nearly two decades to clear legal hurdles.
Chukchansi and Valley Children's are the county's top two private employers, so a new casino is a welcome addition, according to Bobby Kahn, the executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission.
"It's going to be a huge job creator," Kahn said. "In some point in time, they'll be employing somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 or 1,700 people."
Kahn said casino jobs tend to pay well, offer benefits and include a "career ladder" of positions from maintenance workers up to accountants and lawyers. Then there are the construction jobs as the casino goes up.
The litigation has altered the plans, Kahn said. Rather than all going up at once, the hotel is on schedule to be built a couple of years or so after the casino.
While Native American nations on sovereign land are not subject to taxes, the Mono Indians have entered into a number of local deals with Madera, Chowchilla and Madera County to help pay for roads and public safety, among other expenses, according to Kahn.
Madera's casinos do draw tour buses of people from out of the area looking to play slots and table games, Kahn said. He added that the new casino will likely be a hot commodity when it's first built, but shouldn't be a long-term damper on other tourist attractions in the area.
"I think it will have some affect, naturally," he said. "I think in the long-run it will all level out."
The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians is a federally recognized Native American nation with more than 2,200 tribal citizens and government offices in Madera County.