Officials in Kern County, California, are today holding their fifth meeting in as many weeks to discuss a proposal from the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe to build a new $29 million casino at a site near the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.
The Federally-recognized tribe wants to construct a 20,000 sq ft casino in the city of Ridgecrest, which is some 130 miles away from its reservation in Death Valley National Park. It revealed that the projected development could create up to 180 jobs, attract some 67,000 visitors a year and house 349 slots alongside six table games, a pair of restaurants and an entertainments lounge.
The tribe intends to submit a land-into-trust application with the Bureau Of Indian Affairs as part of the licensing process for the 26-acre site near the entrance to the base, only after getting the city of Ridgecrest to approve a 20-year municipal services agreement. In return, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe is promising to pay the city around $400,000 a year alongside a one-off sum of $80,000.
According to a report from The Ridgecrest Daily Independent newspaper, today’s meeting could result in city officials approving the deal despite criticism from Kern County residents who believe the area does not need a casino. Some of these opponents have questioned why the tribe wants to cite the new venture a five-hour drive away from its ancestral homeland while additionally citing the involvement of casino developer Nigel White.
In response, George Gholson, Chairman for the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, has stated that the proposed casino would be a “family-run business” and is intended as a way to help ensure a better future for the group’s younger generations.
“We want to learn a business, we want to understand a business,” said Gholson. “We want our next generations to not live on welfare, to not be “you owe me” people. We want them to stand up, we want them to be educated, we want them to be heard, we want them to be seen. We don’t want to hide any longer. I am not a gambler myself, I’m not a drinker. I really, really look at this as a future for my people.”
Regarding the involvement of White, Gholson declared he would be helping the tribe to secure funding as well as an operator for the new casino while countering location objections by declaring that his group had “strong ties” to the area as it had been part of the tribe’s aboriginal territory.
Should the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe receive the support of Ridgecrest officials, it would be required to follow the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act before any casino was approved. This process could take several years and requires the approval of the Bureau Of Indian Affairs and the state governor.