Lillia Luciano, KXTV
Plans for the Wilton Rancheria Casino and Resort are moving forward after the Elk Grove City Council voted 4-0 to lift what could have been an obstacle in the Rancheria’s plan to acquire 36 acres of land from the Howard Hughes Corporation to build the big casino.
Many more steps need to be taken before the casino gets a full green light, but this one decision by the Elk Grove City Council now paves the way for the $400 million casino and hotel that Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock describes as a, “12-story, 300-room luxury hotel, with 30,000 square foot of conference space, a parking structure, a gaming floor with two thousand slot machines and various restaurants.”
Hitchcock says the project has a lot to offer the city’s residents.
“Elk Grove is a bedroom community, many people are traveling to Sacramento," Hitchcock said." "If there’s job opportunities right here in this community, then there’s more tax revenue, more people are spending in the community and that helps bolster the community coffers for sure.”
Joe Texeira, a resident of Elk Grove, thinks if the city council would poll the public — something they have not yet done — they would find the city's residents are pretty overwhelmingly against a casino.
"It’s not our brand," Texeira said. "We’re about parks, we’re about schools, we’re about marching bands, band reviews.”
Patty Johnson, another Elk Grove resident, said she fears the people this casino will lure in.
“If you’re drawing in crowds that are prone to different kinds of vices, then you’ll have those kinds of vices appearing," Johnson said. "The security people might be snatching them out as fast as they can, but late at night, when everybody who goes to bed at a reasonable hour, you’ll have people who are hanging in there all night to gamble or to pursue whatever else they have an interest in.”
ABC 10 wanted to know if those concerns were legitimate or just plain fear. So, we went to the towns that surround the Cache Creek Casino to talk to some locals.
Esparto Fire Chief Barry Burns thinks it has helped the area with jobs and helped with housing.
"The casino itself and the Wintun Nation — they’ve been really gracious to the area in trying to help with any kind of impacts and stuff that they’ve brought on,” Burns said.
Steve Kipker, who has lived in Caypay his whole life told us if they got a car every half hour, it was surprising.
"Now, the last I heard from CalTrans, there’s like 22,000 a weekend," Kipker said. "I don’t know if those numbers are correct. The traffic is bad, yes. But you always take the bad with the good. So I think the Cache Creek Casino, and the Roadtrip Bar along with it, has really made Capay a thriving community, as small as it is.”
Chris Elliott, manager of the Roadtrip Bar, opened the bar and grill to serve the increased traffic of casino-goers.
“The casino here, to me, has done wonders," Elliott said. "Without it, we, as a business couldn’t grow. It be a lot harder to get people out this way. And, for one, it does great things for the community. They donate money, they fix roads, and they keep our roads well because they’re paying more money. It keeps a police presence here, too. If I have to call the cops, they’re here in 10, 15 minutes. Where if they weren’t I’d be waiting 30 minutes, an hour.”
We talked to some folks at the bar who said they really don’t like the casino and would like to keep their rural farming community as it was.
However, these were simply opinions. To get a better assessment of the potential dangers of a casino, we looked at violent crime, property crime, drug offenses, DUI arrests and alcohol-related accidents in three areas: Lincoln, Placerville and Rohnert Park — comparing incident rates before and after a big Casino opened its doors.
We found no permanent increases in either category after the casinos showed up. The reason for that may be that even if casinos increase criminal activity, they also seem to fund the forces that fight it.
The United Auburn Indian Community pays half a million dollars annually to the Placer County Sheriff’s Department. A similar amount went to Rohnert Park when the Graton Casino opened. In Elk Grove, Chuckie explained they will cover way beyond that.
“Through our MOU agreement with the City of Elk Grove, what the tribe has agreed to do is provide $1.5 million a year to police services alone," Hitchcock said. "That’s far more than what is actual mitigation for police services, it’s a community benefit and also committed $250 thousand to police equipment up front as well, so $1.5 million every single year is quite an extensive amount to police services.”
Since tribes do not pay taxes, they agree to cover such expenses with the cities and counties where they are built. In its Memorandum of Understanding, Wilton Rancheria states it will pay Elk Grove a total of $6 million a year for 20 years. Still, it’s important to understand that this project is not for for Elk Grove. According to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, gaming revenues can only be used to cover specific purposes that benefit the tribe — and that’s what the tribe is fighting for.
Chuckie explained, “having the resort gives us the opportunities that are greater like helping the tribe with medical and dental facilities maybe being able to purchase land for housing project and being able to provide our own water sources and things of that nature.”
Elena Tarango, the Executive Director of Health for the tribe said, one of the things she looks for, from the resort-casino project, is that economic development, the self-sufficiency. She questioned why California does not have an “Indian American Hospital” and she looks forward to creating one with the new casino’s revenues.
According to Pew Research Center, Native Americans struggle with unemployment rates that double the national average, their poverty rate is also well above the national rate, and In California, Native American students have a dropout rate of 18 percent. That’s higher than Latino children.
Melissa Leal, the Rancheria’s Executive Director of Education, thanks gaming revenues for her own undergraduate and graduate education.
“My education, my ability to go to graduate school and things like that is because of gaming tribes giving back to the native community and the community at large,” Leal said.
We asked Chuckie about his vision for how the casino will contribute to the well being of tribe members. He said it’s two-fold.
"Number one, it will provide more services," Hitchcock said. "Right now, the tribe runs on federal grants that supply or that gives housing or educational benefits or health benefits and it’s very minuscule cause it’s on federal funding. So we would have more resources to bolster those departments, housing, health, education, elders, cultural resources.”
He added that they will give tribe members preference to work at the tribal facility.
"It’s an economic driver that will bring over 2,000 jobs so that will give tribal members an opportunity to work,” Hitchcock said.
Wilton Rancheria members say they are simply claiming what’s rightfully theirs after the federal government wronged the tribe by striping them of their tribal recognition in 1958. Although Elena says she doesn’t fully understand what termination meant, she does get what it did.
“What it does is it terminates your rights in terms of the legal responsibilities of our federal government to American Indian people, to the first people of this country,” Elena said.
It took about half a century and hard work by tribal members to recover their status. Several members of the tribe who we spoke with agreed that Elena’s mother led that fight.
“My mom did that," Elena said. "Not for two years, not for five years, not for 10 years, but for 20 years. That’s a big difference and that’s a big commitment of someone and I’m very proud of her and very grateful for what she did and what she sacrificed.”
Once Wilton Rancheria finally regained their status, they tried to follow the lead of many other tribes before them and began the process of building a casino. Chuckie explained that the City of Elk Grove and Sacramento County sued the tribe when they regained their recognition to keep Wilton Rancheria from building the casino in their Rancheria land.
“They wanted to have a seat at the table to make sure that we paid for any impacts to the city and the county and if we played ball they wouldn’t oppose a casino resort project," Hitchcock said. "They also quietly said, and this is not in the litigation, 'please don’t build out here, there’s no infrastructure and that’s what we did.'"
Some Elk Grove residents say they would have liked to have a say as well. At a town hearing, one resident said, “I know the casino is trying to help 800 members of the tribe, but we have more than 100,000 members in Elk Grove, did you ask them?”