Business & Real Estate

Elk Grove tribal casino situation still muddled after council delays decision

Rendering of Wilton Rancheria tribe’s proposed $400 million casino-hotel in Elk Grove. The project’s fate has become clouded by uncertainties over the status of the land needed to build the complex.
Rendering of Wilton Rancheria tribe’s proposed $400 million casino-hotel in Elk Grove. The project’s fate has become clouded by uncertainties over the status of the land needed to build the complex. Wilton Rancheria

The fate of Elk Grove’s proposed Indian casino remains uncertain after city officials, receiving mixed signals from the federal government, postponed a decision on scheduling a voter referendum aimed at thwarting the $400 million project.

The City Council had been expected to vote Wednesday to set a June 6 date for a referendum on its plan to allow the Wilton Rancheria Indian tribe to build a casino and hotel on 36 acres off Highway 99. Instead, the council agreed to take the issue up again Feb. 8.

Council members didn’t explain the reason for the delay but indicated “there was new information that was received from the federal level,” said city spokeswoman Kristyn Nelson.

The council apparently is wrestling with uncertainty over the legal status of the land proposed for the facility. Last week, on President Barack Obama’s last day in office, the U.S. Interior Department agreed to take the 36 acres of land “into trust” for the tribe. That would clear the way for the tribe and its casino partner, Boyd Gaming of Las Vegas, to acquire the land from shopping-mall developer Howard Hughes Corp.

However, the department hasn’t actually taken the land into trust yet and is reviewing the decision, according to casino opponents. That creates an opening for those opponents to push the anti-casino referendum. Federal officials haven’t returned calls seeking comment on the issue.

Complicating matters is the transition to President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump, who has developed casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, has been known as a foe of Indian casinos.

The casino site, at the south end of Elk Grove, is part of a larger parcel on which the Hughes corporation plans to build an outlet mall. Last October the city amended its development agreement to let Hughes sell the 36 acres to the tribe. An anti-casino group, led by a company tied to the owner of two Sacramento area card rooms, gathered enough signatures to force a referendum that would overturn the October decision.

As long as the Interior Department hasn’t officially taken the land into trust, legal experts say the referendum could block the casino.

City officials have backed the casino, in part because it would drive traffic to the long-awaited mall project. Hughes hasn’t set a groundbreaking date and has said the casino is needed to make the outlet mall a success.

As the fight rages over a proposed Indian casino in Elk Grove, Limelight Card Room in Sacramento perseveres against the competition.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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