In California, a plan from the federally-recognized Wilton Rancheria tribe to build a $400 million casino resort on 35.9 acres of land in Sacramento County was recently debated at a local town hall-style meeting.
According to a report from The Sacramento Bee newspaper, at least 300 residents of Elk Grove filled the city’s The Falls Event Center on Wednesday evening to ask tribal representatives about the planned development, which would feature a twelve-story hotel alongside a spa, 30,000 sq ft events space, fitness center and casino with 2,000 slot machines and 84 gaming tables.
In a draft environmental impact statement released by the Bureau Of Indian Affairs in December, the tribe identified three potential land-into-trust sites for its new enterprise. However, the most preferred on 282 acres of land near the town of Galt was eventually disregarded as the Wilton Rancheria would have been required to pay more than $30 million in infrastructure costs including for the construction of a new highway overpass. Of the remaining locations, which also include on the tribe’s reservation 13 miles away in Wilton, an unused plot near Elk Grove currently owned by Howard Hughes Corporation is now seen as the most attractive.
Raymond Hitchcock, Tribal Chairman for the Wilton Rancheria, told those assembled at the Elk Grove meeting that the new casino would create 1,750 full-time jobs while providing temporary employment for some 1,600 construction workers. He stated that the facility, of which only about 2% would be a casino, could bring more tourists to the area while his group had negotiated with the city to pay mitigation costs for any impacts on roads, law enforcement and the environment.
The newspaper reported that the Wilton Rancheria lost its federal recognition in 1964 before regaining the designation in 2009 after 45 years in which its over 700 members struggled economically. Hitchcock explained that more than 60% of the tribe is now unemployed and the new casino resort would present an opportunity for his members to become self-sufficient and provide services such as a health clinic and scholarships.
“This is our opportunity; we can give back to our community,” said Hitchcock. “If we can be a philanthroper in this area, that would be great.”
The city’s mayor, Gary Davis, told those assembled that he was as curious as other residents about the pros and cons of the project while declaring that its construction would present unique challenges because “we’re going to be neighboring a sovereign nation in our community”. In contrast to other such projects, he moreover detailed that the city of 160,000 people does not have the authority to approve or deny the development due to the tribe’s sovereignty.