– December 20, 2014

North Fork Casino passes skin-of-its teeth vote

The North Fork casino gaming compact has passed a key Assembly vote.The North Fork casino gaming compact has passed a key Assembly vote.Plans to build a casino off of Highway 99 in Madera County dodged a narrow bullet today with a vote by the state Assembly approving a gaming compact with the North Fork Rancheria.

The bill, AB 277, failed to garner the needed 41 yeses in the first two rounds of Assembly voting, but eventually passed on a 41-12 margin, with 23 Assembly members abstaining, according to the Twitter feed of Jim Miller, Sacramento bureau reporter for the The Press-Enterprise in Riverside County.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where it would need 21 votes to pass. A vote has not been scheduled.

Senate approval could be the last roadblock for the casino, which would include 2,000 slot machines as well as a resort hotel. The North Fork Rancheria says the project would generate up to 4,500 jobs, $100 million in annual economic activity and $5 million in annual funding for Madera County.

Opponents of the project include operators of the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino in Coarsegold and a pair of influential gaming tribes in Riverside County that say the pact would set a bad precedent for tribes opening casinos off of their reservations. The North Fork Rancheria is based in Madera County's Sierra foothills.


Related article: Gov. Brown approves North Fork's Madera casino

Should the United States normalize relations with Cuba?


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Written on 12/19/2014, 1:41 pm by Business Journal staff
Fresno-based agricultural software company Lotpath has been named a finalist in an accelerator program funded by venture capital firm Silicon Valley...
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:36 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are edging higher as the market comes off a massive two-day rally. The market closed out its second-best week of the year Friday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose nine points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,070. It rose 3.4 percent for the week. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 26 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 17,804. The Nasdaq composite added 17 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,765. CarMax jumped 11 percent after the used car dealership chain reported a surge in earnings. Nike fell 2 percent after reporting a drop in orders from Japan and developing markets in Asia. Crude oil surged $2.36 to $56.52 a barrel in New York. Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.17 percent.
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:34 pm by MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
(AP) — Ready! Set! Hut, hut: This holiday season's blitz of college football bowl games will feature a reshuffled roster of corporate sponsors spending millions to thrust their names in front of fans watching on TV and in the stands. The bowls haven't disclosed their asking prices, but sports marketing experts contacted by The Associated Press estimated the annual cost for the top-tier games ranges from $25 million to more than $30 million. That's up from $16 million to $20 million previously. The substantial price increase probably prompted sponsors to reassess the value of the bowl affiliations, says Kevin Adler, chief engagement officer for sports marketing specialist Engage Marketing in Chicago. Twelve of the 33 bowls returning from last year have sold their naming rights to new sponsors, including several that defected from one game to another. Five other bowls are making their debuts during this holiday season, and three of them — the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and the Ford Motor Quick Lane Bowl — are kicking off with corporate affiliations. This year's list of new sponsors include: — Century-old tire maker Goodyear, which bought the naming rights to the Cotton Bowl in a promotional expansion beyond its well-traveled blimp. — Duck Commander, a Louisiana company sponsoring the Independence Bowl in its home state to introduce itself to people who don't watch the "Duck Dynasty" reality-TV series. — BitPay, a 3-year-old startup that is using the St. Petersburg Bowl in Florida to enlighten a broader audience about bitcoin, a digital currency that so far has appealed mostly to computer geeks, speculators and crooks trying to conceal their financial footprints. "We are hoping the audience watching the game at home, in sports bars, airports and hotels is going to be Googling to find out more about bitcoin," says Stephanie Wargo, BitPay's vice president of marketing. More than 100 merchants in a "Fan Zone" located near the St. Petersburg Bowl also will be accepting bitcoins from customers leading up to the Dec. 26 game. BitPay, a bitcoin processing company, made a three-year commitment to take over the St. Petersburg Bowl naming rights from Beef O'Brady's, which ended a five-year affiliation with the game. Evolving sponsors have become part of the college bowl tradition since the games began auctioning off their naming rights several decades ago to help cover their rising costs. The Holiday Bowl in San Diego has gone through seven sponsors since its 1978 inception (National University, a San Diego college, is returning for its second consecutive season as the game's main sponsor). While some college football fans still lament the commercialization of the sport, bowl directors say the games couldn't go on without the naming rights fees to supplement the revenue from ticket sales and TV broadcasting rights. "It's critical, you can't survive without a sponsor," says Gary Cavalli, executive director of the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, California. After selling its naming rights to two different corporate sponsors during the first 11 years of its existence in San Francisco, Cavalli's bowl played last year without a business backer — and lost more than $100,000 despite cost-cutting efforts. The bowl is in better shape after Foster Farms decided that attaching its name to a college bowl would be a good way to sell more chicken wings and other frozen food as the Livingston, California, company expands eastward. "We know that Americans love football, and we know Americans love to eat chicken while they are watching football, so it's a perfect fit from that perspective," says Bryan Reese, Foster Farms' senior vice president of sales, marketing and research and development. Only four of the 38 bowl games scheduled to be played from Saturday through Jan. 4 weren't able to sell their naming rights. Two of those, the Hawaii Bowl and the Birmingham Bowl, lost their sponsors from last year. The two others, the Boca Raton Bowl and Miami Beach Bowl, are being played for the first time this year. This year's revised line-up of bowl names stems in part from college football's new system for determining a national champion. Four teams are now selected to compete in playoffs that begin with a semifinal round in two bowl games played on New Year's Day. The semifinals will be played at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl this season, then rotate among the Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl. The added drama of a playoff for the national championship prompted ESPN to pay more for the broadcasting rights to the games, resulting in an increase in the price for the naming rights. Tostito's said it ended its 18-year relationship with the Fiesta Bowl after deciding it wanted "to steer its marketing and growth strategies differently." Without elaborating, Discover Financial traced its decision to stop sponsoring the Orange Bowl to the new playoff system. Fiesta sold its naming rights to TV maker Vizio, which had previously backed the Rose Bowl, while the Orange Bowl lured Capital One away from the Citrus Bowl. Northwestern Mutual replaced Vizio at the Rose Bowl and Goodyear rolled into the Cotton Bowl after AT&T backed out from its naming rights deal. With few exceptions, the bowls played before New Year's typically sell their naming rights for $500,000 to $1 million annually. "The cost is not exorbitant, so you get a pretty good bang for the buck," says Jim Andrews, a senior vice president the sponsorship and consulting firm, IEG. "You don't get blockbuster (TV) audiences, but those who do watch are pretty committed." Nevertheless, the money spent on bowl naming rights can turn out to be a waste if the buyer doesn't have a concrete marketing plan. "The first time someone in a company says, 'Hey, we should sponsor a bowl game,' there should be someone in the room who asks why," Engage Marketing's Adler says. "If no one pauses to answer the why question, those deals won't be long-term."
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:31 pm by JULIE PACE, AP White House Correspondent
(AP) — Two days after reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Barack Obama said Friday he doesn't expect the effort to bring overnight change on the island, a quick end to the U.S. economic embargo or the likelihood that he will soon visit the communist nation. "This is still a regime that represses its people," Obama said at a year-end news conference two days after the historic announcement that he was moving to end the half century of Cold War acrimony with Havana. He said he hopes to visit Cuba at some point in his life but that he is not at the stage yet of going or hosting Cuban President Raul Castro in Washington. Instead, Obama said the change in policy should give the U.S. a greater opportunity to have influence on Cuba and reflects his belief that 50 years of isolation haven't worked. He said the embargo should end but he didn't anticipate it soon. "We will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take, the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong," Obama said. "There may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply." On another matter that the U.S. sees as foreign wrongdoing, Obama was asked about the recent hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the company's decision not to send out a new movie that North Korea was angrily protesting. Speaking shortly after the FBI said North Korea was behind the hack, Obama said he felt Sony "made a mistake" in shelving the satirical film about a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader. He said the U.S. would respond to North Korea's action "in a place and manner and time that we choose." Cuba and North Korea were just two issues that Obama addressed concerning a year he saw as basically positive. In fact he declared 2014 "a breakthrough year for America," putting aside the fits and starts of the past 12 months to focus on achievements and the prospect of compromise with his political foes who are taking control of Congress. "My presidency is entering the fourth quarter. Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter," Obama said before leaving on a two-week vacation to Hawaii. The news conference came at the end of what Obama titled his "Year of Action," one in which Congress failed to take up most of his agenda and he turned to looking for ways to act on his own. Republicans cried foul at that tactic, accusing Obama of overstepping his authority, and voters didn't seem to think much of the strategy, either, giving the president low marks in public opinion polls. On Friday, the president acknowledged many unanticipated crises in the past year but said he enters 2015 with renewed confidence that "America is making significant strides where it counts." He said he intends to make sure the economy, government and justice system work for everyone. "I'm energized," Obama declared, trying to shake off last month's midterm elections that brought crushing losses for his party. He ticked off the year's improvements, citing lower unemployment and a rising number of Americans covered by health insurance and the historic opening with Cuba. On climate change, the touted his own executive action and a Chinese agreement to combat global warming. He also noted that on Friday the Treasury Department announced it had sold the last investment related to the Wall Street and auto bailouts. And he said America's combat mission in Afghanistan would soon be over. "Take any metric that you want, America's resurgence is real. We are better off," Obama said. He will return to Washington with both congressional chambers under Republican control — a first since he's been in the White House — and attention turning to the 2016 race to replace him. While much of his agenda will face a dead end on Capitol Hill, Obama said he'll look for areas of compromise on issues like taxes and continue to act on his own where he can. He said he has been speaking to House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about how they can make progress. "They are serious about wanting to get some things done. The tax area is one area where we can get things done," Obama said. But he cautioned, "The devil's in the details." His comments weren't all sweetness and light. Obama warned Republicans that he would block efforts to erode his health care law or further water down banking regulation enacted in the aftermath of the financial crisis. "I'm confident that I'll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions," he said, though he recently signed a major bill that included softening of some bank regulations. In another potential area of conflict, Obama downplayed the benefits of building the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, arguing it would not lower gasoline prices and that more jobs would be created by repairing America's infrastructure. He said the pipeline would mainly benefit Canadian oil companies that need to get Canadian oil to the Gulf of Mexico. He said the pipeline is "not even a nominal benefit for U.S. consumers." McConnell has said it would be the first bill taken up under the new GOP-majority Senate. But environmentalists have made opposition to its approval a priority. On Cuba, Obama said longtime leader Fidel Castro's name came up only briefly in his phone call with Castro's brother and successor. Obama said he opened the call with about 15 minutes of an opening statement, then apologized for talking so long. Obama said President Raul Castro responded, "You're still a young man and you still have a chance to break Fidel's record. He once spoke seven hours straight." Obama said the Cuban leader then delivered an opening statement at least twice as long as his. "I was able to say, 'Obviously, it runs in the family.'"
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:29 pm by RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer
(AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers have ended the New York Yankees' 15-year streak as Major League Baseball's biggest spenders and owe more than $26.6 million in luxury tax. The Dodgers finished with a record payroll of $257,283,410, according to final calculations made by Major League Baseball on Friday and obtained by The Associated Press. That is more than $20 million above the previous high, set by the Yankees last year. For the first time since the current luxury tax began in 2003, the Yankees won't be paying the most. The luxury tax was put in place as a slowdown on spending by high-revenue teams. The Dodgers owe $26,621,125 based on a $277.7 million payroll for purposes of the tax, which calculates payroll based on the average annual value of contracts for players on the 40-man roster and includes benefits. The Yankees owe $18.3 million in tax.
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:25 pm by 
JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer
(AP) — Hackers sent a new email Friday to Sony Pictures Entertainment, gloating over the studio's "wise" decision to cancel the release of "The Interview" and warning not to distribute the film "in any form." The email was confirmed by a person close to the studio who requested anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the matter. It was sent to several employees of the Culver City, California, company that's been roiled by a hacking group calling itself Guardians of Peace. "Very wise to cancel 'the interview' it will be very useful for you," read the message. "We ensure the purity of your data and as long as you make no more trouble." The email also warned against any release of the Seth Rogen, James Franco comedy and insisted that "anything related to the movie, including trailers" be removed from the Internet. "Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy," wrote the hackers. The Obama administration on Friday formally accused the North Korean government of being responsible for the devastating hacking attack. The FBI said in a statement it has enough evidence to conclude that North Korea was behind the punishing breach, which resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of leaked emails and other materials. Sony Pictures has been removing all signs of "The Interview" from its websites and taken its trailers off YouTube. On Wednesday, the studio canceled its Dec. 25 release after the hackers made threats of violence against theaters showing the film. Sony has said it now has no plans to release "The Interview." "It's above us now at government level," said the person close to Sony.___Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:24 pm by MARCY GORDON, AP Business Writer
(AP) — T-Mobile US will pay at least $90 million, mostly in refunds, for billing customers for cellphone text services they didn't order, under a settlement with federal regulators. The Federal Trade Commission announced the agreement Friday with T-Mobile over billing for unauthorized charges, a practice known as "cramming." T-Mobile, the fourth-largest U.S. cellphone company, is paying at least $67.5 million in refunds to affected customers plus $18 million in fines to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and $4.5 million in fines to the Federal Communications Commission. The FTC sued T-Mobile in July, accusing it of billing customers for subscriptions to text services like $9.99-per-month horoscopes, ringtones, "flirting tips" or celebrity gossip updates that they didn't want or authorize. T-Mobile collected 35 percent to 40 percent of the charges, even after being alerted by customers that they were bogus, the FTC alleges. That earned the company hundreds of millions of dollars, the agency said. "We learned during this case that T-Mobile was in bed with the crammers," said Travis LeBlanc, head of the FTC's enforcement bureau. He was referring to the third-party companies that put charges on phone bills for text services. Many consumers aren't aware that third-party companies can do that, the regulators say. Officials told reporters on a conference call that the $90 million was a floor, not a maximum, for the amount that T-Mobile could end up paying. "It could be well north of $100 million," said Bill Sorrell, the attorney general of Vermont. A T-Mobile spokeswoman said the company had no immediate comment on the settlement. T-Mobile began a refund program in July and has said it has notified current and former customers. The company didn't provide an estimate of how much it has paid in refunds to date. T-Mobile US Inc., based in Bellevue, Washington, is controlled by Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG. It's the No. 4 U.S. cellphone carrier after Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and Sprint. The settlement must be approved by a federal court in Seattle, where the FTC filed its lawsuit. Under the settlement, T-Mobile must provide full refunds to all its customers affected by the "cramming," and the amount it pays in refunds and fines must reach at least $90 million. If the payout doesn't reach that amount, the difference between what T-Mobile pays and $90 million will go to the FTC for additional relief to consumers, consumer education or other uses. T-Mobile also must contact all of its affected customers, both current and former, to tell them about the refund program and how they can make a claim. That must be done in a "clear and conspicuous way," the FTC said. Going forward, T-Mobile must get customers' explicit consent before putting third-party charges on their bills. The company must clearly indicate any third-party charges on the bills. The settlement with T-Mobile came two days after another federal regulator, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, sued rival Sprint Corp. for alleged cellphone "cramming." The CFPB is seeking an unspecified money penalty against Sprint. The T-Mobile agreement is the second-largest settlement for the government over mobile cramming. In October, AT&T Mobility agreed to a $105 million settlement with the FTC. Officials said that with the two settlements, about half of all U.S. cellphone users now will be protected from abusive third-party charges. "Mobile cramming is an issue that has affected millions of American consumers, and I'm pleased that this settlement will put money back in the hands of affected T-Mobile customers," FTC Chair Edith Ramirez said in a statement Friday. "Consumers should be able to trust that their mobile phone bills reflect the charges they authorized and nothing more." __Refund site for T-Mobile customers:
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:20 pm by Business Journal staff
The Fresno City Council approved the city's 2035 General Plan update last night, spelling out goals and guidelines for growth in the next 20 years. Passing in a 5-2 vote, only Councilmembers Steve Brandau and Clint Olivier were against adoption, asking for more time to review the plan. The general plan, which hasn't been updated in 12 years, is required by law to be updated periodically to reflect population growth and physical changes that occur through development. In it are a number of strategies to enhance economic development, increase public utilities and services, add transportation and infrastructure, improve health and wellness and provide for parks and schools. Also contained in the more than 600-page plan is a focus on greater infill development and higher density within the city in order to contain urban sprawl and increase investment in deteriorating neighborhoods, as well as to comply with SB 743 calling for more transit-oriented infill projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California. As far as housing goes, the plan accommodates an increase of 76,000 residential dwelling units by 2035 beyond the 191,000 today to handle an estimated 771,000 residents by that time. That includes an additional 9,000 in and around downtown, 7,700 in established neighborhoods south of Shaw Avenue, 6,400 in neighborhoods north of Shaw and 6,000 in bus rapid transit corridors along Shaw and Blackstone avenues, as well as another 2,500 just east of the Fresno Yosemite International Airport. In outward growing areas, the plan calls for another 10,500 units southwest of downtown, 17,000 northwest of downtown, 8,900 east of Temperance Avenue and 6,000 south of Jensen Avenue. At full buildout of the city's sphere of influence is expected to bring the total to 336,000 residential units in Fresno. With the new general plan in place, the city council will also be tasked with updating its development code within the next 90 days, a process long overdue since it was last updated in the 1960s.
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:10 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — An attorney who helped hide profits from a series of Southern California marijuana dispensaries has pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy charges. The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday ( ) that 59-year-old Richard C. Brizendine of Long Beach faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced in May. Federal prosecutors said that Brizendine for six years represented John Melvin Walker, who owned marijuana shops in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Officials say Walker made $25 million. Brizendine was accused of helping to shield some of the profits by structuring cash deposits in several accounts at less than $10,000 — the legal threshold for reporting to the federal government. Walker was convicted last year for failing to report millions. He was sentenced to nearly 22 years in federal prison.
Written on 12/19/2014, 11:57 am by Business Journal staff
Employment fell throughout the Central Valley in November as more farm laborers found themselves out of work. According to data released by the state Employment Development Department, Fresno County's unemployment rate stood at 11.2 percent in November, up from 10.2 percent in October but less than 12.2 percent a year ago. Fresno County lost a total of 6,000 jobs from October to November, with farm employment dropping 5,500 and nonfarm industries receding by 500, ending at 360,000 total jobs in the county. Manufacturing decreased by 1,600 jobs, while government, construction and leisure and hospitality all edged down by 200 jobs each. However, the trade, transportation and utilities sector moved up by 1,800 jobs in the month. Tulare County saw its unemployment rate increase from 11.7 percent in October to 12.3 percent in the latest month. Both were down from 13.1 percent in November 2013. Although nonfarm industries gained 1,100 jobs in the month, farms lost 1,200 jobs, ending at a total of 147,700 jobs in the county during November. Trade, transportation and utilities had the biggest gains at 700 new jobs, followed by 400 more in the professional and business sector and 300 in government. Manufacturing lost 200 jobs in the county, while mining, logging and construction was down by 200. Madera County had an unemployment rate of 10.7 percent in November, up from 8.9 percent in October but below 11 percent a year ago.
 Farms lost 1,500 jobs in the month as nonfarm industries fell by 700, leaving a total workforce of 45,700 in November. The government sector shrank by 900 jobs and leisure and hospitality by 100. Professional and business services gained 100 jobs in the month, as did trade, transportation and utilities and the information sectors. Kings County'a unemployment rate increased to 11.7 percent in the month, up from 10.7 percent in October but down from 12.7 percent last year. Farms shed 300 jobs during the month as nonfarm industries had no change overall, leaving the county with a total of 43,600 jobs. Although the county's manufacturing sector had 400 fewer jobs in November, trade, transportation and utilities picked up 300 and government added 100. California's unemployment rate decreased to 7.2 percent in November compared to 7.3 in October and 8.4 percent a year ago. The U.S. rate was unchanged in the month at 5.8 percent, down from 7 percent in November 2013.

Latest State News

Written on 12/19/2014, 1:29 pm by RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer
(AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers have...
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:25 pm by 
JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer
(AP) — Hackers sent a new email Friday...
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:10 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — An attorney who helped hide...
Written on 12/19/2014, 10:38 am by Associated Press
(AP) — California added 90,100 payroll...

Latest National News

Written on 12/19/2014, 1:36 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are edging higher as...
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:34 pm by MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
(AP) — Ready! Set! Hut, hut: This...
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:31 pm by JULIE PACE, AP White House Correspondent
(AP) — Two days after reopening...
Written on 12/19/2014, 1:24 pm by MARCY GORDON, AP Business Writer
(AP) — T-Mobile US will pay at least...