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Members of the Wilton Rancheria conducted a ceremony at the groundbreaking event of the Sky River Casino in March.

The Wilton Rancheria drew high attention in 2021 with their Sky River Casino project. This facility is currently under construction near Kammerer Road and Highway 99. The tribe broke ground on that project on March 9 after several years of planning.

Sky River is being built on the former site of the “Ghost Mall” – Elk Grove’s longtime partially built outlet mall, which was demolished in 2019 after 11 years of construction inactivity.

As Sacramento County’s first tribal casino, Sky River Casino will be operated by the Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp. on land that is owned by the tribe. The facility is slated to open in late 2022.

Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chair Jesus Tarango on Dec. 19 told the Citizen that the project is currently on schedule and under budget.

“We’re still looking forward to an opening of later next fall,” he said. “We’re thinking maybe end of that third quarter, early fourth quarter, somewhere around there in October time, somewhere around there.”

The project is currently a little less than half completed, Tarango noted.

“You’re starting to see some of the exterior stuff going up; the walls and the ceilings and everything (are) almost fully complete (for) what will be going inside, hopefully, in the next month or so,” he said. “You do see some of the parking lots being laid out.”

Once completed, Sky River Casino will offer 2,000 slot machines, more than 80 gaming tables and 12 distinct dining options.

Tarango noted that the casino will be one of the larger employers in the Sacramento region.

“It’s employing a lot of trades people, a lot of workers right now, but also, I would say, with the opening of our project, (there will be) about 1,500 to 2,000 jobs,” he said. “What does that do for the small community here? I think it’s huge.”

Wilton Rancheria will also contribute nearly $132 million in recurring payments to the city and community of Elk Grove through a memorandum of understanding agreement that was approved by the Elk Grove City Council in 2016.

Tarango acknowledged that the casino project has brought a lot of public attention to his tribe, which currently has about 900 members.

He added that there are much better days ahead for the tribe, which has experienced many struggles, including its status termination by the federal government in 1959. The tribe, which primarily consists of Miwok and Nisenan people and has its own tribal government, regained its federally recognition in June 2009.

Tarango noted that this project will allow members of the Wilton Rancheria to become self-sufficient.

“I don’t think you can really put words on it for what it means to us, and to know that we’re honoring those who came before us,” he said. “Obviously, (there are) the things that we’ll be able to take from it, the resources that we’re going to be able to get from it to take care of our people for generations to come.

“For us, as native people, the things that the government said that they would give us, now we’re going to be able to do that on our own. To truly be self-sufficient is the main goal for us.”

Tarango mentioned that the casino will pay tribute to past elders of the tribe.

“It’s not so much for those of us here now,” he said. “I think the excitement is for the ones who are no longer here with us, in that we’re doing something for them that they’re not here to partake in.”

He added that he is also excited for tribal members of future generations who will reap the benefits of the project.

Tarango stressed that, although Sky River Casino will benefit the Wilton Rancheria, it should not define its members.

“The casino will not make us who we are,” he said. “That doesn’t define us as indigenous people, but I think it’s going to allow for our people to come back to who they are. It’s a resource for us, to help us become that community that we were many, many years ago.”

In anticipating the grand opening of the casino, Tarango told the Citizen that he is looking forward to that day.

“I think it’s going to be a beautiful day,” he said.