In California, the Wilton Rancheria tribe’s plan to build a casino near Kammerer Road and Highway 99’s Grant Line Road exit in Elk Grove is one step closer to becoming a reality after a lawsuit brought by opponents of the casino project was denied by a federal judge last week.
Judge Trevor N. McFadden on Wednesday ruled that federal regulations regarding agency vacancies gave the interim executive at the time authority to issue the land-into-trust decision for the Wilton Rancheria, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Obama administration appointee, Larry Roberts, then-acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, made the decision in Jan. 2017 that placed just shy of 36 acres into a trust for the tribe. After which time gambling watchdog Stand Up for California! and three Elk Grove residents filed a lawsuit contending that only the interior secretary or assistant secretary for Indian Affairs could sign off on the Jan. 19, 2017 decision.
McFadden wrote, “This case involves a uniquely Washingtonian question: when can a federal employee act in the place of an absent agency or unit head?”
“This issue becomes acute during presidential transitions, when thousands of senior political appointees exit the government, often leaving their positions vacant for months or even years.”
The land-into-trust decision was celebrated by the Wilton Rancheria.
Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock, Chairman of the Wilton Racheria, said in a news release, “I’m very excited of the outcome. It just solidifies what I’ve known all along, in that the land is in trust and the decision is final.”
The judge’s ruling was referred to by Hitchcock as “another big step in the right direction” for the construction of the casino-resort moving forward.
According to the news release, the tribe is still maintaining its plan to either begin demolition or to break ground for the proposed $500 million project this spring or summer.
Hitchcock reportedly said that in a “best case scenario” in June 2020, the Wilton Rancheria could open the casino resort.
Also commenting on McFadden’s decision, Cheryl Schmit, director of the Stand Up group said, “The case is far from over, and we’ll be before the same judge again.”
“So, there’s no need for anybody to celebrate or be discouraged at this point in time. There’s still a long way to go.”
“We’re going to amend our brief and file on all the merits of our case, including the one that just got denied,” said Schmit.
Commenting on the lawsuits, Hitchcock said: “They find anything that they can to slap frivolous lawsuits against the tribe.”
“It costs us hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend these court cases that try to slow our ability to be a sovereign government and have an economic development,” he said.
The Wilton Rancheria along with Las Vegas-based financing partner Boyd Gaming Corp. purchased the acreage for the 600,000-square-foot project in February last year. The 758-member Elk Grove-based tribe’s plan is to develop the facility on the 35.9 acres at the site of an unfinished shopping mall situated at the south end of the city. The Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corp., is developing the mall called The Outlet Collection at Elk Grove.
The casino would reportedly include 110,000 square feet of gaming, a 302-room and suite hotel tower, restaurants including fine dining, a spa and fitness area and a convention enter.