The Wilton Rancheria tribe on March 9 broke ground on their casino-resort project, which will be built on the former site of the “Ghost Mall” at Highway 99 and Kammerer Road.
They introduced the project’s new name, Sky River Casino, and announced that the casino will open in late 2022.
The Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp. will build and operate the casino on land that is owned by the tribe. Among the casino’s features will be 2,000 slot machines, more than 80 gaming tables, and 12 distinct dining options.
The Wilton Rancheria on March 9 informed the Citizen that the current cost of the casino is more than $500 million. Its previous estimated cost in 2014 was $400 million and included a hotel.
The future casino’s groundbreaking ceremony, which was held on its 35.9-acre site, was attended by tribal members, local officials and others.
While standing on a stage above the crowd, Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chair Jesus Tarango said that the day’s event marked a milestone in the tribe’s longtime efforts to gain self-sufficiency.
“Today, we celebrate the hard-fought determination of generations of tribal members to create a future of dignity and self-sufficiency for Wilton Rancheria,” he said.
Wilton Rancheria’s history includes the termination of its tribal status in 1958, and its 2009 tribal restoration, which did not include land. The U.S. Department of the Interior placed the current project site into a federal trust for the tribe’s proposed casino project in 2017.
Wilton Rancheria’s efforts to have their own casino included various legal challenges from the Penryn-based casino watchdog group, Stand Up for California!
Tarango noted that the future casino will provide resources to invest in housing, education and health care for the tribe’s 853 tribal members, and will aid in the preservation of their language, culture and community.
He also said that the casino project will benefit people from outside the tribe through creating thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars for the economies of Elk Grove and its surrounding areas.
Tarango added that the tribe has agreed to invest $186 million in the city of Elk Grove and Sacramento County within the first 20 years of the casino’s operation to support police, schools, roads and other services.
“(The casino) will give us a chance to give back to our community,” he said.
Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock, who served as Wilton Rancheria’s tribal chair from 2012 to 2020, told the Citizen that he was very emotional during the groundbreaking ceremony.
“To witness the casino groundbreaking today brought a flood of emotion, elation, and tears,” he said. “To think of all those who came before us – the generations of our ancestors who endured persecution and hardships for us to have a better life. To even be here at all is a testament to that perseverance of our people.”
Hitchcock stressed that the Sky River gaming project is just “a vehicle to self-sufficiency for the future of our tribal people.”
“Today’s shovel in the earth marks a culmination of years of community outreach, public support, environmental reviews, consultations, lawsuit after lawsuit, and the eventual perseverance of our tribe to get land in trust, beat the lawsuits, and finally break ground,” he said.
The event included various speakers, including former California Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the gaming compact between the tribe and the state on July 19, 2017.
Brown, who spoke to the crowd through a live video shown on large screens, said that the casino will be built on land that was occupied by native people for thousands of years.
“I think back to what it must have been to your ancestors and the people of the land where I am now, to all of California,” he said. “What would it have been to have been in a place for thousands of years with all of the (assurances) of custom and rituals and friendship and knowing the land, and then all of a sudden strange people come and take it over and engage in the massacres and the killings that we know so well?”
Brown added that the tribe’s casino showcases the tribe’s perseverance to better the lives of its members.
“This casino is an opportunity for self-empowerment,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to take back what has been taken from you.”
Elk Grove Police Chief Tim Albright referred to the groundbreaking as “an exciting time.”
“To see the progress, I think this really defines us as now a large city, and we’re excited to partner with this great group to serve the needs of our community and really to provide an amenity that is unlike any other,” he told the Citizen.
During an interview with the Citizen, Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen mentioned that she is glad that a project will finally be built on the former site of a partially-built shopping mall that sat abandoned for more than a decade before its demolition last year. Boyd purchased the mall site's land last December.
“It’s been an eyesore in the community for years,” she said. “And so, I’m just so happy that Boyd Gaming purchased the (former “Ghost Mall”) land and we’re finally breaking ground today. This is a proud day for our city.”