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Wilton tribe bets on casino

If approved, the Miwok Rancheria’s plan could bring tourism, thousands of jobs to Galt area

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A little-known Miwok Indian tribe from Wilton hopes to build a casino along Highway 99, just north of Galt. The Wilton Rancheria is planning to make a presentation to Galt City Council members during Tuesday's regular meeting.

If built, the casino could potentially create thousands of jobs for local residents and generate spin-off revenue by patrons staying in Galt motels and pumping gas there.

Galt City Manager Jason Behrmann said he was looking forward to Tuesday's presentation.

Leaders hinted at building a gaming establishment in 2009 when the tribe's federal status was restored.

Now the tribe has secured a development partner, according to a source close to plan who wished to remain anonymous.

A Wilton Rancheria tribal representative could not be reached late Friday. Regional representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs could not be reached either, but it's likely that the completion of the project could take years, as an Indian casino requires both state and federal permits.

It does not require approval of local government, according to Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli.

However, under settled litigation between the city of Elk Grove, Sacramento County and Wilton Rancheria, tribal representatives were required to notify each agency when a land use agreement was near. Nottoli said the county received a letter from the rancheria dated Feb. 19 informing the agency that it was looking to designate 160 acres as tribal land to develop into an Indian casino, and possibly add housing and educational elements.

A site plan has not yet been made public, although rancheria representatives have met with officials from Sacramento County, Elk Grove and Galt, Nottoli said.

"It's good they're taking time to communicate with local governments. I get the sense they're being thoughtful in moving forward," he said. "It's going to be a sensitive issue for some folks."

Its proposed location off Arno Road, for example, is relatively close to the Cosumnes River Preserve.

Nottoli, however, approves of the location over a rural site.

"If it's going to be located in Sacramento County, I would much rather see it along Highway 99 where you have access to services," he said.

Frank Gayaldo first learned of the casino idea a few months ago when a tribal representative approached him when he was still the Galt Chamber of Commerce's executive director. He, too, is looking forward to learning more about the proposal.

"There are examples of other gaming casinos that have brought economic benefits to communities they've been a part of," he said. "There's definitely a way it could be good for the Galt region. From an economic viewpoint, it can be positive for the community."

The Wilton Rancheria was established in 1927, and encompasses about 40 acres and a dozen privately owned parcels near Wilton and Green roads. The Rancheria's members have reportedly applied to the BIA to put the Arno Road parcel for a gaming establishment into a land trust. It is unclear whether the group already owns the property.

The Wilton Miwok Rancheria, together with the Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria, filed a lawsuit to restore the tribe's federally recognized status.

The court ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ended a legal odyssey that began in 1958 when the U.S. Rancheria Act stripped numerous tribes of their federally recognized status, among them the Wilton Miwok Rancheria. Policy created through the act was declared a failure in 1970, and most tribes were re-instated as federally recognized. However, the Wilton Miwok Rancheria was left out.

The suit was settled in 2009, allowing the group to elect its own government and begin to hold regular tribal council meetings. It renamed itself the Wilton Rancheria.

The office is located in Elk Grove.

Approximately 600 people belong to the tribe, many of whom live in Wilton.

The ancestors and some surviving members of the Wilton Rancheria lived for many years on their land bordering the Cosumnes River until 1958. The tribal members are descendants of the Plains Miwok who lived and prospered in the Sacramento Valley.

A similar casino project was approved last May in Ione, according to the BIA website.

That tribe is located in Amador County and has approximately 750 members, who are proposing to develop a gaming facility on approximately 228 acres of land near Plymouth. The tribe submitted its initial application for the gaming site in 2005.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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