ELK GROVE, Calif. (KCRA) —
The city of Elk Grove is now one giant step closer to becoming the home of a very controversial casino. The Wilton Rancheria tribe announced Tuesday that it now has the approval of the U.S. government to proceed, changing the odds for a gambling center that could alter the face of Elk Grove forever.
“We now have a home!” said Raymond Hitchcock, to the cheers of dozens of members from Wilton Rancheria.
After nearly 60 years of being landless, the Wilton Rancheria tribe has just received the green light from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop a luxury resort and casino on 36 acres at the so-called “ghost mall” in Elk Grove.
“You're going to have a 302-room luxury hotel,” Hitchcock said, adding that the project includes a “30,000-plus square-foot convention center for concerts and banquets, 2,000 slots and 84 gaming tables and fine dining restaurants.”
Hitchcock said the casino resort project is “going to bring over 2,000 jobs for the Elk Grove area, millions of dollars for the city of Elk Grove and the county of Sacramento -- and provide tribal opportunities for over 750 tribal members for services and programs.”
The prospect of new jobs is a promising one for tribal member Sammy Espinoza, who is looking for work.
“I'm just going to try to do something in the casino -- maybe the casino floor -- or do something in there that I would like to do,” Espinoza said.
Because the 36 acres have now been placed into a federal trust, the city of Elk Grove has no jurisdiction over the casino site. It’s now on sovereign land purchased for $36 million by Boyd Gaming, Wilton Rancheria’s partner.
The property is just a few steps north of the abandoned Outlet Collection mall along Highway 99 that is owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation.
In a statement to KCRA 3, the Howard Hughes Corporation said, “We continue to receive positive feedback from the retail community about the proposed casino resort and are certain the forward movement will be important to our leasing efforts.”
But, many Elk Grove residents strongly oppose having a gambling center in their town.
“I don't think it's good for our community,” resident Russell Thogmartin said. “I think they just sold the soul of Elk Grove, if you want to know the truth.”
One of the biggest concerns is traffic congestion, along with fears of an increase in crime.
“My daughter works for a casino, and I can tell you, it creates a lot of problems,” Elk Grove resident Karen Ridgeway said. “I tell you, I don’t think I want something like that -- that close.”
It will take several years for the casino project to be fully developed and built out. But first, it needs final approval from the California Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown.
Among the supporters at Tuesday’s news conference was Elk Grove Assembly member Jim Cooper.
“Now that the land is in trust, the governor and tribe will actually work on the compact,” Cooper said. “Once that compact is ratified, I'll insert my bill.”
Cooper said his bill approving the casino compact requires a “Yes” vote from two-thirds of the State Assembly and State Senate.
If approved, the Wilton Rancheria casino resort is projected to open by 2022.