In California, the plan from the Wilton Rancheria to build a $400 million casino resort in southern Sacramento County has reportedly taken a small step forward after the Bureau of Indian Affairs dismissed a land-into-trust appeal brought by a party opposed to the construction of the proposed gambling establishment.

According to a report from the local Elk Grove Citizen newspaper, July 13 saw Michael Black, Acting Director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, reject a petition brought by a local anti-casino group called Stand Up For California! that had sought to reverse a January 19 decision that placed a 35.9-acre piece of land just south of the city of Elk Grove into trust for the federally-recognized tribe.

The newspaper reported the Wilton Rancheria via partner Boyd Gaming Corporation purchased the plot from real estate developer The Howard Hughes Corporation in February of 2015 for $36 million and wants to construct a twelve-story hotel along with a spa, 30,000 sq ft events space, fitness center and casino complete with 2,000 slots and 84 gaming tables. However, the disputed parcel is not on tribal territory and must be definitively placed into federal trust before construction can begin.

“This was just another small hurdle on our path towards self-sufficiency,” Raymond Hitchcock, Chairman for the Wilton Rancheria, told the Elk Grove Citizen following last Thursday’s decision. “This decision solidly confirms that the placing of the land into federal trust was valid and that we have every right to continue forward with our economic development plans. This was another attempt to cloud our land-into-trust process by Stand Up For California! and card rooms. So, I’m ecstatic.”

In its action, Penryn-based Stand Up For California! had reportedly argued that Lawrence Roberts, the former Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, had only approved the Wilton Rancheria’s land-into-trust application on the final day of Barack Obama’s Presidency, which it contended was beyond his authority pursuant to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

But, far from being disheartened by the ruling, Cheryl Schmit from Stand Up For California! reportedly declared that the whole issue is “far from a done deal” as the dismissal “doesn’t change anything” with the group now set to challenge the land-into-trust decision in federal court.

“All of our arguments are preserved and will be amended into our complaint in federal court,” Schmit told the Elk Grove Citizen. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs can not just thrust a casino into an urban community willy-nilly. In this instance, the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not follow federal laws and regulations. A dismissal of the administrative appeal does not damage any of our arguments going forward. The proposed casino by Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming [Corporation] and the Wilton [Rancheria] tribe raises a mire of irregularities in the federal process of the National Environmental Protection Act, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and substantial issues in the Administrative Procedures Act.”

In addition to court actions, opponents of the proposed Elk Grove tribal casino also reportedly want the city to hold a referendum on the project while critics have continually cited the societal costs that such as project could have including a possible rise in prostitution. However, Hitchcock purportedly alleged that Stand Up For California! has been distorting the truth about the original land-into-trust decision and stated that the drive to hold a referendum is being financed in part by local card room operator Park West Casinos.

“Stand Up For California! is led by Cheryl Schmit, who lives in Placer County and has represented gaming interests despite portraying her organization as a gaming industry “watchdog”,” Robert Magnuson, a spokesperson for the Wilton Rancheria, told the newspaper. “Her co-plaintiffs in the appeal filed with the Department of the Interior, Joe Teixeira and Patty Johnson, were active in gathering signatures for a voter referendum against the project.”

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