Northern California Tribe Chooses Alternative Site for Casino

The Wilton Rancheria in Northern California has chosen to build its proposed casino on 35.9 acres in Elk Grove, passing up on nearby Galt because it faced $30 million extra in spending due to the need to add infrastructure. The site was called a “no brainer” by tribal Chairman Raymond C. Hitchcock.

The Northern California gaming tribe Wilton Rancheria announced last week that it has chosen an alternative site for its casino resort. It has chosen 35.9 acres in Elk Grove instead of 282 acres near the city of Galt where it had previously wanted to build and where it previously filed to put into trust.

The $400 million casino with 2,000 slot machines would have a 12-story hotel with 302 rooms and 30,000 feet of event space and fine dining. The tribe estimates that construction will take between 12 to 18 months.

Three possible sites were considered by the 700-member tribe and outlined in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released for the tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in December: Wilton, Galt and Elk Grove.

The estimated $30 million plus that would have had to be spent on the Galt site, including building a freeway overpass, proved to be the decisive factor in the decision. That amount “presented an insurmountable economic challenge,” said Tribal Chairman Raymond C. Hitchcock.

He told KCRA: “When you look at Elk Grove, the overcrossing is done, water and waste water connections and infrastructure is already there. So, it made it kind of a no-brainer at that point.”

He elaborated: “(On June 8), Sacramento County agreed to two (memorandum of understanding) service agreements – one for Galt and one for Elk Grove. And if we were to build in Galt, we would have to invest another $10 million in one-time costs to help revitalize Mingo Road and McKenzie Road and some of the county roads on the east side of the highway, on top of the $30 million crossing.”

The land is owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation, which is building the Outlet Collection at Elk Grove on land adjacent to where the casino would be built, adjacent to Highway 99. The tribe has signed an option agreement with the corporation, whose president, Grant Herlitz, said in a release: “We are pleased to have an agreement in place with the Wilton Rancheria that gives the Tribe a path forward with their plans for a resort and casino. It should serve as an ideal complement to The Outlet Collection at Elk Grove.”

Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis hailed the development, telling the Sacramento Bee: “We look forward to working with Wilton Rancheria and engaging the community around this project. If the proposed hotel, dining, shopping and entertainment resort comes to our city, it would be adjacent to the planned Outlet Collection at Elk Grove and, together, they could create a powerful engine for economic growth.”

Hitchcock added, “This is one of the largest privately funded projects in south Sacramento County,” he said. “It will bring over 2,000 full-time jobs to the actual facility. There are a couple thousand construction jobs over the 18- to 24-month life of the build.” He said that the money made by the tribe would stay in the community and benefit it with “philanthropic endeavors.”

The tribe promises to pay annual lump sums to the Elk Grove Police Department and the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department.

Before the tribe can build a casino it will need to negotiate a tribal state gaming compact with Governor Jerry Brown.

Once the Bureau of Indian Affairs completes reviewing comments that it took before February 29 it will issue the final environmental impact statement. The tribe is expecting the document to be released sometime this summer.

Hitchcock said that a groundbreaking from within three to five years would be optimal. It would create about 2,000 jobs during construction and 2,000 full-time permanent jobs once the casino opens.

Because of a memorandum of understanding with Elk Grove the tribe would be able to go forward without a vote of the residents, however Hitchcock said the tribe wants to earn the support of the residents and plans to hold a series of town meetings and take questions and address concerns.

He told KCRA, “We don’t want to force ourselves somewhere. We want the community support.”

Sacramento County Supervisors last week were scheduled to discuss approving a memorandum of understanding and government-to-government agreements between the Rancheria and the county.

“The proposed agreements provide a predictable, stable, inflation-adjusted funding source provided by the Wilton Rancheria tribe to mitigate for impacts to Sacramento County as well as provide enhancement of services,” says the proposed resolution.