When many of us think of casinos, our minds immediately turn to Tribal gaming operations. Indian gaming has been integral in the funding of many important public services on tribal lands, and the vast majority of gaming revues go to fund local government and community development. However, Tribal gaming is highly regulated and opening a casino on Indian land can require years of cutting through regulatory red tape.
The National Indian Gaming Commission approved a contract between the Wilton Rancheria Tribe of Miwok people of Elk Grove, which is just outside of Sacramento, and a private casino developer for the construction of a $500 million casino resort. The project, which is proposed to be located at an unfinished portion of the Elk Grove mall site, has been inching towards completion despite the rigorous regulatory requirements.
The major construction project is performing necessary ground tests and safety inspections, and construction is expected to commence this year. And while projects of this scale and scope always take time, the Wilton Rancheria’s tribal gaming development has been moving forward at a respectable pace.
The fact that the Wilton Rancheria tribe has gotten so far in the construction of its proposed casino is a notable accomplishment. The tribe was able to meet California’s conditions for conducing gaming in addition to having access to eligible lands as determined by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Once this has been secured, the tribe must secure approval from the National Indian Gaming Commission and the U.S. Department of the Interior. This entire process can take years and cost millions of dollars, and it’s proven insurmountable to innumerable proposed Indian gaming projects.
In January, the Department of the Interior approved the Wilton Rancheria’s tribal gaming compact with California’s state government, which gives the tribe the legal authority to operate a casino-resort on its Elk Grove lands. The project defeated legal challenges brought by anti-gambling advocates in 2017, and despite the bureaucratic red tape and disruptive litigation, it appears to be moving forward quite smoothly.
With the construction of the casino, the Wilton Rancheria will join the 240 federally-recognized tribes that offer regulated gaming in 460 casinos across the country. However, Indian gaming is not a cut-and-dried issue – far from it. Less than half of all federally recognized tribes have sought to establish gaming establishments on their lands, and there are sincere ideological concerns about bringing casinos to Native American communities. In Elk Grove, citizens were able to voice these concerns through litigation and public participation processes included in licensing procedures, and by no means did they fall on deaf ears. Regardless, however, the Wilton Rancheria leadership appears committed to moving forward with the casino as a way to improve government services and quality of life for its people.