In California, a plan from the Wilton Rancheria to build a $400 million casino resort in southern Sacramento County reportedly remains in jeopardy despite the tribe announcing last week that the United States Department of the Interior had approved its land-into-trust application.
According to a report from The Sacramento Bee newspaper, the federal agency had agreed to the deal on January 19, which was former President Barack Obama’s final full day in office, but has not officially signed off due to a subsequent order from incoming President Donald Trump to hold “all Federal Register documents” until they can be reviewed by his team.
The newspaper reported that the federally-recognized Wilton Rancheria wants to construct a twelve-story hotel along with a spa, 30,000 sq ft events space, fitness center and casino with 2,000 slots and 84 gaming tables on the 35.9-acre plot in the city of Elk Grove just south of the state capital of Sacramento but first needs the United States Department of the Interior to place the land, which it purchased from real estate developer The Howard Hughes Corporation, into trust.
“After 58 years without a home, our people finally will have land,” read a statement from Raymond Hitchcock, Chairman for the Wilton Rancheria, issued on January 20. “This has been a long and hard struggle. We now can tell our elders that their blood, sweat and tears will have been worth it.”
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 proposed casino would present an opportunity for its members to become self-sufficient and enjoy services such as a health clinic and scholarships.
For its part, The Howard Hughes Corporation told the newspaper that the casino would be “essential” to its efforts to complete development of an adjacent half-built mall as the whole site has been a fenced-off eyesore on the south side of Elk Grove since a previous developer went bankrupt in 2009.
“This is a great day for Elk Grove,” read a January 20 statement from Gary Davis, the former mayor for Elk Grove. “The resort and casino will help the city prosper and provide a strong catalyst for the Outlet Collection mall. Together, they will bring lasting economic growth and benefits for our citizens and for the region as a whole.”
The Sacramento Bee reported that the ongoing uncertainty over whether the land has been taken into trust could see the whole project derail with casino opponents still hoping to hold a public referendum on the matter in the autumn after earlier collecting enough signatures to force the vote. If passed, the referendum would overturn the tribe’s October purchase of the land from The Howard Hughes Corporation and make the development impossible at the present Elk Grove location.
“The casino is not a done deal [and] the land is not in trust,” read a statement issued earlier this week by an anti-casino group called Council On Prosperity And Accountability before going on to label reports to the contrary as “fake news”.