Casino proposed for southern Sacramento County looks at Prime Locations

by Placerville Newswire / Feb 17, 2016 / comments

[Proposed sites in Elk Grove, Galt are on busy Highway 99 corridor]

A proposal to build Sacramento County’s first tribal casino is stirring up a debate that started when the state’s first American Indian bingo parlors opened in the 1980s: Will a new casino benefit the larger community or mainly enrich the tribe that runs it?

Today that question centers on Sacramento County and the cities of Galt, population 24,000, and Elk Grove, home to more than 160,000 residents.

The local Wilton Rancheria tribe had its tribal status and land taken away in the late 1950s. It won back federal recognition as a tribe but not its traditional lands near Wilton, and many of its members are impoverished and unemployed.

The now-landless tribe has identified the two cities in southern Sacramento County as the main places where it would like to acquire tribal land and build a 12-story hotel tower, a convention center and a 110,000-square-foot gambling floor filled with slot machines and table games.

The proposed size of the project puts it in the same league as some of Northern California’s largest gambling meccas, including the Thunder Valley Casino Resort near Lincoln, operated by the United Auburn Indian Community.

Galt residents and city officials have voiced mixed emotions, from anti-gambling sentiments to concerns about traffic to eagerness for the hundreds of jobs the project could generate. Elk Grove residents are just starting to understand that a site along Highway 99 adjacent to the city’s half-built “ghost mall” now may be the tribe’s first choice, partly because of objections in Galt.

The Galt site remains “Alternative A” in the tribe’s application for land to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, said Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock. “But the Elk Grove alternative is an A-minus or maybe even an A-plus,” he said.

1,750    The number of full-time jobs proponents say the proposed casino resort would create
Another spot under consideration is the tribe’s historic rancheria in rural Wilton, though the tribe no longer owns the lands, and the site is not one of its preferred options.

Hitchcock said the proposed casino resort could generate about 1,750 full-time jobs plus hundreds of constructions jobs during a two-year build-out. Those workers would spend their money at local stores, buy homes and cars, and boost the casino’s economic benefits through what economists call a multiplier effect.

“It just goes on and on,” Hitchcock said.

Residents and local officials have little say in the world of Indian lands and gaming. The federal government controls almost all Native American affairs. But locals can slow down the process with objections and legal actions. That’s why the Wilton Rancheria tribe is looking for a receptive city, where locals see a casino resort as an economic and cultural benefit.

Though it’s still early in the planning process, with construction likely years away, the discussion of potential pros and cons is underway in southern Sacramento County.

Silvia Rodriguez, a resident of Elk Grove’s Laguna Greens neighborhood, attended a community meeting Thursday night to address a recent rash of gun violence. She said she didn’t think a casino would fit with Elk Grove’s family-friendly neighborhoods and would only bring more safety problems.

“There needs to be a real economic justification,” she said.

Leaders in Elk Grove are just starting to take the casino plan seriously. The city recently posted information about the project on its website, and city planners have begun examining the details, Councilman Steven Detrick said.

“A lot of people think we have the power to say yes or no,” Detrick said. “All we can do is say, ‘If you guys were to come here, these are the concerns.’ ”

Potential problems include the need for additional police and fire services and measures to ease traffic congestion, the councilman said.

Tribes enter into revenue-sharing compacts with the state and typically reimburse counties for the negative effects of casino projects. Thunder Valley, for instance, pays Placer County more than $4 million annually to offset the county’s additional law enforcement and fire expenses and $2 million more in place of lost property taxes. (As sovereign nations, tribes are immune from state and local regulation, including taxes.)

Robert Weygandt, chairman of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, said negotiations with the United Auburn Indian Community began contentiously when the tribe was planning its Thunder Valley casino in the early 2000s, but over time the county-tribe relationship evolved into a respectful one.

The mitigation fees the tribe pays more than offset the county’s costs for emergency services and treating problem gamblers, Weygandt said. The casino and its concerts bring in visitors from outside the area who frequent local businesses, he said. And Thunder Valley employs 2,500 workers, many of whom live in the southern Placer County cities of Lincoln, Rocklin and Roseville.

In Elk Grove, Howard Hughes Corp. now owns the 28-acre site near Grant Line Road that the tribe might buy. Work on the adjacent shopping mall ceased during the recession in 2008, but plans now call for it to be a premium outlet mall with a 14-screen movie theater. Having a casino resort next door could bolster both projects, tribal and city officials have said...

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