The fight over a proposed Indian casino in Elk Grove is intensifying, with an obscure nonprofit group airing a blistering TV commercial saying the casino would inundate the suburb with drugs, prostitution, bankruptcies and other woes.
The 30-second spot, which aired last weekend on KXTV-ABC 10, was sponsored by a Sacramento group called the Council on Prosperity and Accountability – an organization that appears to have connections to the card club operator that is spearheading a voter referendum aimed at thwarting the $400 million casino planned by the Wilton Rancheria Indian tribe.
The organization’s registered agent is Ashlee Titus, a Sacramento attorney. In November, Titus submitted 14,800 signatures demanding the referendum on behalf of Knighted Ventures LLC. That’s a Bay Area company that provides crucial financial services to Silver F Inc., the owner of two Sacramento-area card clubs, the Parkwest Casino Lotus on Stockton Boulevard and Parkwest Casino Cordova in Rancho Cordova.
Titus and the officers of the Council on Prosperity and Accountability couldn’t be reached for comment, but the organization released a statement Thursday pledging to continue fighting against the casino. “Elk Grove citizens have made it clear that they want to protect their families and the local business community from the serious impacts of the proposed mega-casino,” the group said in a statement to The Sacramento Bee. “They have also voiced their concern over the city conducting secret negotiations with land developers, gaming companies and tribal interests.”
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Region Business, a pro-business group aligned with the Wilton tribe, called it “hypocritical and desperate for a gaming establishment to attack another organization saying that gaming is bad. Especially when thousands of jobs and the economic future of Elk Grove is at stake.”
A major project in its own right, the casino also could be crucial to Elk Grove’s longstanding hopes to have a shopping mall built at the south end of the city. The mall’s developer, Howard Hughes Corp., has said the casino is needed to bring traffic to the retail site.
Although the casino’s fate will likely be decided by voters, the ad urges the Elk Grove City Council to use its authority to step in and stop the project. “There are places where casinos belong, just not here in our community,” a narrator says as images of drug deals, police cruisers and bankruptcy court documents flash on the screen.
Typically, local voters or city councils wouldn’t have the power to decide whether an Indian casino gets built. Tribes only need approvals from the U.S. Interior Department and a gambling compact ratified by the state Legislature.
This case is different.
In 2014, the City Council approved Howard Hughes’ plan to build an outlet mall on Highway 99, at the site of a half-built regional mall that was abandoned in 2008 by Hughes’ bankrupt predecessor. Last October, the council amended the development agreement to allow Hughes to sell a portion of its property to the tribe to make room for a casino, hotel and conference center.
It’s that decision that provided an opening for casino opponents. Knighted Ventures, the firm affiliated with the card rooms, submitted 11,565 valid signatures demanding a referendum on the October decision, more than enough to qualify the issue for the ballot.
The City Council has two choices: Agree to block the casino project or call an election. The council is expected to make a decision later this month.