The Wilton Rancheria Miwok Tribe has overcome a further legislative hurdle as California’s governor signed off on their plan to build and operate a $500m casino resort, but the tribe still has to confront yet another legal challenge from the anti-casino lobby.
In California, a plan by the Wilton Rancheria Miwok Tribe to build and operate a $500m casino resort in Elk Grove, near Sacramento has been officially signed off by governor Jerry Brown with the tribe reportedly ready to begin construction as early as summer 2018.
On 3 October, Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1606, which ratifies the gaming compact between the state and the Wilton Rancheria on the tribe’s proposed casino-resort.
“The governor’s signature represents the culmination of so much hard work over the past several years,” said Wilton Rancheria chair Raymond Hitchcock (pictured) in a statement.
Hitchcock stated that under a “best case scenario,” the project would break ground by next summer, while construction could be completed between late 2019 to mid- 2020.
“I’m not sure that aggres- sive of a timeline is feasible, but now that they’ve cleared all of their governmental hurdles, I hope they move as quickly as they can,” said Elk Grove City Council member Pat Hume.
The development would see a 608,756 sq ft casino facility which includes a 12-story 302-room hotel and convention centre, hosting six restaurants, along with bars and other amenities, and an 110,260 sq ft gaming floor.
“For the tribe, the compact marks a big step toward providing the level of independence and support its more than 750 members deserve,” said assemblyman Jim Cooper, who introduced the bill.
“The Wilton Rancheria project is vital to the future prosperity of Elk Grove and will create thousands of good-paying jobs for the entire Sacramento region.”
State estimates suggest that the casino project will create 1,600 construction jobs, in addition to a further 1,750 full-time jobs.
The compact also established that the Wilton Rancheria will be allowed to have 2,500 slot machines and must pay six percent of the house winnings from the machines into a state-run fund that shares revenue with those tribes which do not have casinos.
The tribe will start paying into the fund seven years after the casino opens, however the Wilton Rancheria agreed to invest $186m in the first 20 years of the project with the city of Elk Grove to mitigate potential public safety, traffic and social impacts of the casino.
“We look forward to continuing our work with the community of Elk Grove and the greater Sacramento region to create jobs, a great destination resort and to help our tribe achieve self- sufficiency,” Hitchcock added.
Wilton Rancheria tribal status was terminated in 1958, and the tribe was finally restored, without land, in 2009, after a long-fought campaign by tribal elders.
Back in February 2015, in partnership with Las Vegas-based operator Boyd Gaming Corporation, the tribe purchased a 35.9-acre plot of land for $36m from real estate developer The Howard Hughes Corporation.
Despite the new compact, the development still faces opposition from a local anti-casino group, Stand Up For California!
The group filed a motion with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia at the beginning of October attempting to reverse the land-into-trust decision by the Department of the Interior which gave the tribe permission to operate a gambling facility on the Elk Grove site.
“I’m sure there are going to be continued delays,” Hitchcock conceded. “It’s really competition that’s funding the opposition’s campaign and lawsuits. If they want to keep funnelling their dollars into a losing campaign, have at it.”