Elk Grove Citizen
By Lance Armstrong
Citizen Staff Writer
The Wilton Rancheria’s plan for a $400 million casino-resort in Elk Grove took a step forward on Jan. 19 when the U.S. Department of Interior decided to place land into a federal trust for this project.
As part of the Indian casino process, the tribe must have land placed into a federal trust before a groundbreaking can occur.
City Council Member Pat Hume said that the Department of Interior’s decision eliminates the possible need for a special election that could have occurred due to an anti-Elk Grove casino petition.
“The good news is the council can set aside their prior action and there’s no need for any special election,” he said.
The petition, which was certified by the council on Jan. 11, was aimed at repealing the council’s vote to amend a development agreement that would allow the tribe to purchase the 35.9-acre property at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road from its owner, The Howard Hughes Corporation.
“I knew that there was going to be a decision right around the (presidential) inauguration time, so I was expecting something to come forward,” Hume said.
If built, the casino-resort would feature 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.
Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chair Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock described the federal decision as a milestone.
“To say we actually got a record decision to put land in the trust for 36 acres in Elk Grove is momentous,” he said. “It was really an emotional, joyous moment to get that call yesterday.
“After 58 years without a home, our people finally will have land. This has been a long and hard struggle. We now can tell our elders that their blood, sweat and tears will have been worth it.”
The 1958 Rancheria Act terminated 41 California Indian tribes, including the Wilton Rancheria. The tribe’s federal recognition was restored in 2009, making it eligible for mandatory land into trust.
Hitchcock said that there is still a lot of work to be done before a groundbreaking can occur alongside the future Outlet Collection at Elk Grove mall, which is planned on property that is also owned by Howard Hughes.
A groundbreaking could occur at the site within the next three to five years, Hitchcock added.
The tribe, in order to offer gambling, must now have a state gaming compact approved by Gov. Jerry Brown and ratified by the state Legislature.
Former Mayor Gary Davis called the Department of Interior’s decision a “great day for Elk Grove.”
“The resort and casino will help the city prosper and provide a strong catalyst for the Outlet Collection mall,” he said. “Together, they will bring lasting economic growth and benefits for our citizens and for the region as a whole.”
Hume stated that the federal decision to put land into trust for the tribe’s proposed casino-resort project reinforces the fact that the development of the project is “not the City Council’s decision.”
“Now that the feds have made their decision, it is truly out of our hands,” he said. “So, I’m thankful that we and our staff were able to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the tribe that if this project does develop, it means about $4.5 million for the city every year.”