Dan Morain

Dan Morain

By Dan Morain
Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 – 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 – 12:23 am

Backers of a referendum to halt an Indian casino from opening on Highway 99 north of Fresno are earnest people whose simple goal is to protect their quaint lifestyle, or so their campaign’s name would suggest.

It’s called Keep Vegas-style Casinos Out of Neighborhoods, and it’s fronted by Cheryl Schmit, an anti-gambling activist who operates a one-woman nonprofit, Stand Up for California, from her home-office in rural Penryn.

Schmit seeks to gather 504,000 signatures of registered voters to place the referendum on the 2014 ballot so she can overturn a compact authorizing the North Fork band of Mono Indians to open what would be a lucrative casino in Madera.

It appears to be the sort of underdog undertaking that would warm Hiram Johnson’s heart, except it’s not. Wall Street, hardly a bastion of direct democracy, is financing the campaign, along with a rich tribe that owns a nearby casino and could lose market share if the North Fork band opens a casino.

Brigade Capital Management, a secretive investment house, dumped $261,100 into the campaign to qualify the referendum earlier this month. Two other New York investment firms chipped in $89,000. Table Mountain casino, a 30-minute drive from Madera, gave $350,000, the start of a campaign that will cost millions.

The campaign’s name notwithstanding, the funders care nothing about protecting neighborhoods against vice, and even less about tribal sovereignty. They do, however, care deeply about their investments, which would be placed at risk by competition from the North Fork casino.

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