By Lance Armstrong
Citizen Staff Writer
In their continued efforts to have a $400 million casino-resort built at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road, the Wilton Rancheria made much news in 2017. Leading those efforts was Tribal Chair Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock.
The tribe gained a victory on Feb. 10, when the U.S. Department of Interior placed 35.9 acres of land into federal trust for the proposed casino-resort.
Following that action, The Howard Hughes Corp., owner of the adjacent Outlet Collection at Elk Grove mall, sold the property for $36 million to the tribe and Boyd Gaming, the tribe’s project partner.
Hitchcock recognized the tribe’s land-into-trust victory as ending their 58-year “landless status.”
“After 58 years of struggle, our people finally have land,” he said. “This is a great day for the community, as well as the tribe, because it marks a major step forward in bringing jobs, economic growth and community investment to Elk Grove and the region.”
Hitchcock and the Wilton Rancheria also gained the early support of Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly.
Ly told the Citizen this January that there is a “need” to have the casino-resort built.
“It’s not about gambling; it’s about making sure this (long-delayed, Elk Grove) mall is completed,” he said. “And it becomes imperative that this (casino-resort project) becomes a catalyst to get the mall completed.”
The following month, former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis, in an interview with the Citizen, also referred to the proposed casino-resort as a “catalyst” for “breathing new life” into the mall project.
Through memorandum of understanding agreements with the city of Elk Grove and the county of Sacramento, the Wilton Rancheria would invest more than $180 million in the first 20 years of the project. That funding would be used to improve traffic, enhance public safety, assist schools and expand community programs.
One of the year’s greatest milestones for Hitchcock and the tribe came on July 19, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a gaming compact between the tribe and the state.
The governor’s approval of the state compact occurred less than a week after the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs dismissed an appeal by the Penryn-based Stand Up for California! against the placement of the proposed casino’s land into a federal trust.
“It’s been a really good week for us,” Hitchcock said.
The tribe’s proposed project came even closer to reality on Aug. 31, when the state Senate unanimously approved Assembly Bill (AB) 1606. The bill was authored by Assembly Member Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and ratified the gaming compact between the state and the Wilton Rancheria.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1606 on Oct. 3.
Hitchcock stated that with the governor’s signing of the bill, he believes that under a “best case scenario,” ground would be broken for the project by next summer.
With that timeline, Hitchcock noted that construction on the project could be completed sometime from late 2019 to mid-2020.
If built, the casino-resort would include a gaming floor with 2,000 slot machines, 84 gaming tables, a 12-story, 302-room hotel, a fitness area and spa, an outdoor pool, a 30,000-square-foot convention space/banquet area and fine dining restaurants.
The project is estimated to create 1,600 construction jobs, 1,750 full-time employment positions, and 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.