Sacramento Business Journal
By Mark Anderson - Staff Writer Sacramento Business Journal
An administrative appeal meant to block the Wilton Rancheria Indian tribe from building a $500 million casino resort in Elk Grove has been dismissed.
The action, filed by the anti-gambling group Stand Up California, had challenged the federal government's decision in January to put land into trust for the Wilton Rancheria tribe.
Its dismissal means the tribe has cleared one of numerous challenges in its effort to complete a project that could bring substantial development to Elk Grove. Aside from the jobs and business the casino resort itself would bring, it is also expected to spur development of a long-delayed outlet mall.
“This was just another small hurdle on our path toward self-sufficiency,” said Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond Hitchcock, in a news release.
Stand Up California director Cheryl Schmit said the administrative decision "doesn't change anything," and that her group will continue to challenge the project through a federal lawsuit.
A group of Elk Grove residents have also sued the city over the casino, alleging that the Elk Grove City Council violated California open meetings laws in deliberations about the casino project
The Wilton Rancheria tribe, which is based in Elk Grove, wants to develop a casino resort, 302-room hotel tower and convention center on 36 acres within the site of an unfinished shopping mall at the south end of Elk Grove. The Outlet Collection at Elk Grove is being developed by Howard Hughes Corp. (NYSE: HHC).
After years of environmental review, the tribe’s effort was certified to conform with federal law by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in January.
Stand Up California's appeal of the decision to put the land into trust was based on the interim status of the executive who approved the decision. The approval was made by then-acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Lawrence Roberts, an Obama administration appointee, as the Trump administration was taking office.
Michael Black, the current acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs, dismissed the appeal based on precedent and case law stating that acting first secretaries are authorized to make executive decisions.
Schmit said her group's suit is making the same argument that the interim acting assistant secretary cannot make the trust decision, and she said a new acting interim assistant secretary does not have authority to dismiss the appeal.
In February, the tribe and its development partner Boyd Gaming Corp. (NYSE: BYD) of Las Vegas bought the 36-acre mall parcel for the casino for $36 million.
Last September, the Elk Grove City Council approved a memorandum of understanding where the tribe agreed to pay the city $132 million over 20 years once the casino is developed, to mitigate its effects on traffic, law enforcement and loss of property to tax rolls. The land for the casino will technically become sovereign domestic nation land when it is a casino, so it won’t be subject to local property taxes.