Wilton Rancheria chairman: Federal decision allows casino, with or without vote

Wilton Rancheria chairman: Federal decision allows casino, with or without vote

Sacramento Business Journal

Mark Anderson
Staff Writer
Sacramento Business Journal

The top official of the Wilton Rancheria Indian tribe says that with an approval received Friday from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe is now nearly clear to develop its $400 million casino in Elk Grove — no matter what a local election decides.

“The federal government determines whether a tribe’s land is eligible for gaming, and here, the federal government has determined that it is,” said Tribal Chairman Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock.

The Wilton Rancheria tribe wants to develop a casino resort, 302-room hotel tower and convention center on 36 acres within the site of an unfinished shopping mall on the south end of Elk Grove. After years of going through environmental certifications, the tribe’s effort was determined on Friday to conform with federal law by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Previously, on Sept. 28, Elk Grove’s City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding for the tribe to pay the city $132 million over 20 years.

That approval allows the tribe to move forward, Hitchcock said.

Casino opponents have sought to stop its development by challenging another decision, also made by the city council in September.

On Sept. 9, the council agreed to remove the proposed casino land from the agreement governing the development of the mall, thus clearing title on the land for it to be put into trust. The mall, to be called The Outlet Collection at Elk Grove, is being developed by The Howard HughesCorp. (NYSE: HHC).

The opponents mounted a signature-gathering campaign, calling for a popular vote to overturn the decision to remove the land from the development agreement.

Elk Grove’s City Council is scheduled to meet Wednesday to decide whether to put the issue on the ballot, perhaps this June.

City officials declined to comment Monday on the Bureau of Indian Affairs' decision and what it might mean for the potential election.

But Hitchcock said Monday that the change to the development agreement "has no impact whatsoever on Wilton Rancheria or its trust land, and any petition or referendum related to that ordinance will also have no impacts.”

Also, the city’s agreement with the tribe “is not subject to city environmental review, design, land use or land development ordinances, plans, manuals or standards,” he said.

The memorandum of understanding was never the subject of the referendum, Hitchcock said. “Proponents of the referendum have certainly expressed to voters that it is a referendum on the tribe’s casino and project. This has led to our concern that the voters and the press have been grossly misled.”

Mark Anderson covers technology, agriculture, banking and finance, venture capital, energy, mining and hospitality for the Sacramento Business Journal.

Posted: Jan 24, 2017,
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