Lance Armstrong - Citizen Staff Writer
The Wilton Rancheria tribe’s plan to have Sacramento County’s first tribal casino-resort built on a 35.9-acre site at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road took one major step closer to becoming a reality on July 19.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a gaming compact between the tribe and the state. The next step is for the compact to be presented to both the California Senate and Assembly for approval or denial.
Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock responded to the news of this government-to-government partnership, which is a prerequisite for the construction of this facility.
“We are excited and grateful to the governor for his leadership in this effort,” he said. “This is an important day for our people. We waited 58 years for our land to be restored and, now, we can look forward to moving ahead toward self-sufficiency, economic development and giving back to the community.”
Hitchcock mentioned that the compact was already accepted by the tribal council two weeks ago.
The governor’s approval of the state compact happened less than a week after the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs dismissed an appeal against the placement of the proposed casino’s land into a federal trust.
“It’s been a really good week for us,” Hitchcock said.
Cheryl Schmit, director of the Penryn-based Stand Up for California!, the casino watchdog group that filed that appeal, said that it was no surprise that the governor signed the compact.
“I don’t think any of us were surprised about the compact, because the governor’s role is to protect the interest of the state,” she said. “And if a tribe comes to him and says that (they) have land in trust, the federal law obligates him to negotiate in good faith. It doesn’t obligate the tribe to negotiate in good faith, just the governor.”
Schmit also commented about the federal dismal of her group’s appeal.
“The dismissal of the appeal the other day was a decision that only decided whether the decision was a final agency action,” she said. “And deciding that it was a final agency action means that we can now activate our federal court challenge, which will decide about the land.”
Schmit added that many years could pass before a decision is made on the casino-resort.
“Today is just another step, but the deal is not done,” she said. “Construction isn’t going to start next week.
“There are a lot of things that depend on that. As the litigation moves on, we’ll just have to see. Litigation can drag on for years.”
However, Hitchcock stated that the tribe is hopeful that ground will be broken for the proposed, $400 million casino-resort within the next three years.
“Today’s another exciting day for the Wilton Rancheria and we’re another step closer to self-sufficiency and having a first-class gaming facility next to the (future) Outlet Collection at Elk Grove mall,” he said.
Elk Grove city spokesperson Kristyn Nelson issued this statement: “This is another step in the process for Wilton Rancheria’s project. The city continues to monitor developments associated with the project at both the state and federal levels.”