House Committee on Natural Resources Chair Questions Wilton Rancheria, Elk Grove Casino Approval Process

April 11, 2017 |   

A letter from the Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources to the Department of Interior is questioning the process that put land into trust that was recently purchased by Wilton Rancheria for their proposed casino in Elk Grove.

The letter, from Congressman Rob Bishop (R - Utah), Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has expressed concern for the last-minute approval process during the Obama administration. Specifically, Bishop is asking to "freeze" any further action regarding the Wilton Rancheria's action pending a review to determine if it was legal for administrators in "acting" positions to approve placing the land into trust.

Addressed to Acting Deputy Secretary of Department of Interior James Cason, Bishop argues that Michael S. Black approved an unspecified "fee to trust application for a casino even though his predecessor, then Deputy Assistant Secretary Lawrence Roberts, was aware of allegations of conflicts of interests involving the Bureau of Indians' (BIA) processing of the application."

Bishop added that even though the total number of "troubling determinations" is not known at the time, the staff of the Natural Resources Committee has identified several last minute approvals of off-reservation Indian casinos of concern.

Citing several last minute approvals in the waning of hours of the Obama administration, Bishop said while there are no suggestions of any wrongdoing but nonetheless urged Interior Department scrutiny. Bishop said, "the decision were rendered with little or no transparency and with no notification to the Committee of Natural Resources many of whose members are on record expressing concerns with off-reservation gambling."

The Natural Resources Committee is responsible for oversight in several areas including "Native Americans generally, including the care and allotment of Native American lands and general and special measures relating to claims that are paid out of Native American funds." One of their subcommittees, the "Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs oversees all matters regarding Native Americans, including the approximately 566 federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native Corporations, with nearly 1.9 million enrolled members" is chaired by California Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R - Richvale).

The Wilton Rancheria, which recently completed the purchase of 35-acres at the site of the Howard Hughes Company's unfinished Outlet Collection at Elk Grove shopping center. With the financial backing of Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming, the tribe is planning construction of a $400 million casino resort. 

The Wilton Rancheria celebrated the purchase of the property and its placement into federal trust on February 14, 2017. The City of Elk Grove has agreed to financial terms with the tribe to mitigate effects on the city, and the project has received political support from figures including California State Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D - Elk Grove) and former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis. 

Bishop's letter, which is dated on February 15, 2017, one day following the Wilton Rancheria celebration, closed by noting there is a precedent for "reversal of last minute actions made by outgoing administration's personnel following an investigation." 


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