An illustration of the Wilton Rancheria's casino-resort project. 

Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock last week told the Citizen that impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have delayed the beginning of construction on his tribe’s $500 million casino-resort in Elk Grove.

The project site is located on 35.9 acres at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road.

“Given the current status, financial markets and the impacts from the pandemic, financing for the project has been put on hold,” Hitchcock said. “This pandemic really took everybody by surprise and put the whole credit market in a freeze right now, and we don’t know how long it will take to thaw out.”

Hitchcock noted that the tribe had hoped to break ground for the project this month.

“The tribe was all geared to begin the construction project, the gaming project here this spring, early summer,” he said. “We had kind of a tentative beginning of May date back in late February, early March as we were marching toward this spring and summer getting all lined up, getting ready for construction.”

In January, Hitchcock told the Citizen that the tribe projected that their casino-resort would open in late 2021.

Hitchcock was asked if he believes that goal can still be met, given the current delay in the project.

“I don’t believe so,” he responded.

The tribal chair added that the tribe is currently in a “wait and see” situation.

“We hope by indicators (that the credit market will improve) this year, by the end of the year – hopefully the fourth quarter is what we’re hoping for,” he said. “But if there’s a spike in coronavirus deaths and cases, that may change things all over again.

“I don’t think anybody can see in the crystal ball right now, but that’s kind of what we’re up against, unfortunately.”

Despite the Wilton Rancheria’s disappointment with having its project delayed, Hitchcock identified a positive factor in the timing of that delay.

“If we would have got started and then it hit, we would have been in the middle of a project, having to come slow to a halt and have issues with getting manufactured products for the gaming facility, being able to complete the project,” he said.

“It would have put a whole new set of parameters that would have been costly to the tribe. So, in a way it’s a blessing in disguise, even though it’s disheartening, because we were all ready to go.”

Hitchcock stressed that the project’s delay is only temporary, and that his tribe’s goals for opening a casino in Elk Grove have not changed.

“This is only a temporary delay and we look forward to resuming work on this project as soon as we can,” he said. “We’ll try to keep you updated and informed as we navigate through this continuing pandemic.”

Tribal chair responds to reopening of tribal casinos

Hitchcock also responded to the news of this week’s reopening of some of the state’s tribal gaming facilities.

“They’re obviously going to have personal distancing in place and a lot of different protocol,” he said. “That’s kind of the sign of the times. Temperature checks, three people to a 21 table, every other slot machine open, or every third slot machine.

“No hotels being open, no food, no restaurants. What does that look like and how long does that last before people start to return? Those are unknowns that nobody can really answer.”