Tribal leaders: Casino could bring lots of jobs to area
A proposed casino off Highway 99 in Galt is drawing substantial interest and concern from community members.
The potential casino site is on 282 acres west of Hwy. 99. It would include a 12-story hotel with 302 rooms, a convention center and a tribal festive ground. The project promises to bring thousands of jobs to the area, but also threatens to change the character of the small town.
Nancy Bennet and her husband moved to Galt from San Jose last year, looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city. She is one of many residents worried about how a casino would change the fabric of the community.
“They’re sticking this in our backyard and no one mentioned anything about this when we bought the home,” Bennett said.
At a meeting attended by hundreds Friday, Wilton Rancheria tribal leaders worked to convince the crowd the casino would be a benefit and not a burden.
“We see this as a community project. We want to work together with the neighbors and the jurisdictions because this is a huge project,” Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond Hitchcock said. “It’s going to bring a lot of jobs, over 2,000 jobs, a lot of construction jobs and just the secondary economic benefits from that alone is going to spawn economic growth.”
The casino would provide a much needed boost for the struggling tribe, where 45 percent of its members are unemployed and experience health and social challenges.
Joaquin Tarango considers himself one of the lucky ones. He graduated from Sacramento State and is now trying to help high school-age tribe members.
“You see a lot of them coming from the reservations, rancheria, a lot of drug and alcohol, unemployment, problems within families,” Tarango said.
He supports the casino project and believes it could give the tribe’s younger generation something to feel positive about.
“It’s creating these jobs, this opportunity and it’s helping communities come back together to heal the wounds from the past,” he said.
In addition to the hotel, an environmental impact study calls for a 48,150-square-foot convention center and a tribal festive ground to be built nearby.
Tribal leaders said there are also two alternative locations being considered.
One location is in Elk Grove at the currently vacant Elk Grove Mall off Promenade Parkway. The other is in the small town of Wilton near the tribe's original reservation.
Although these are viable places, tribal leaders said they prefer the Galt site because of the easy access off Hwy. 99.
If a casino is built, hiring preference will go to Native Americans. However, with just 700 members in the Wilton Rancheria Tribe, and only 400 of the members are adults, tribal leaders said there would still be plenty of positions for local job seekers.
Ultimately, the Department of the Interior makes the final decision on whether or not to allow the casino to move forward. The tribe estimates a decision could take anywhere from two to five years.