Arguments will be heard next month by a federal appeals court in a 15-year legal battle that has prevented the Mechoopda Tribe from opening a casino on ancestral territory located about ten miles south of the city of Chico, California, according to Indianz.com.
Having been terminated by Congress in 1967 and losing its 26-acre Chico Rancheria in the process, the tribe regained federal recognition in 1992. In 2014 the U.S. Department of the Interior determined that the Tribe qualified as a “restored tribe” and the Site qualified as “restored lands” and further determined that the 626.55 acres of land would be taken into trust in accordance with Section 5 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
Today, California State University, Chico (CSUC) owns approximately one-half of the old Chico Rancheria.
The tribe’s application was originally approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 2008 but a Butte County lawsuit led to reconsideration. In 2014, the BIA approved the application again.
The tribe is looking to develop the site located northeast of California State Highway 99 near the city of Chico in Butte County, California, some 10 miles from the original Rancheria. It wants to build a casino there and offer Class II and III gaming on roughly 91 acres. The proposed gaming facility consisting of nearly 42,000 square feet would reportedly include restaurants, retail areas and administrative offices.
Butte County is already home to a pair of casinos in the Gold Country Casino and Hotel and the Feather Falls Casino and Lodge.
The tribe’s efforts have been backed by both the Bush and Obama administrations. And in July 2016, Judge Frederick Scullin wrote that the Department of the Interior’s 2014 decision had been “thorough and well-reasoned” and upheld a previous land-into-trust ruling over the objections of local officials.
When the tribe won its most recent court battle, it said that despite the possibility that the county could appeal the land-into-trust decision a final time, it intended to proceed with plans to build a casino offering some 500 slots and ten gaming tables.
However, Butte County is hoping that the D.C. Court of Appeals will stop the project after arguments are heard on September 15. The appeal will be heard by three judges; Robert Wilkins, Harry Edwards and Merrick Garland.
In an opinion for The Chico News-Review, on Thursday Professor Sara Trechter of Friends of the Mechoopda wrote, “If the county’s appeal succeeds, it thwarts the Mechoopda’s economic development plans to provide funding for education, healthcare and eldercare from casino revenues.”