Sky River Casino Anniversary More Than A Milestone For Wilton Rancheria Tribe

The Wilton Rancheria tribe is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its Sky River Casino in Elk Grove. While the first anniversary of the casino is an important milestone, the day ultimately means more than the annual commemoration.

It’s a path back to a self-sustainable way of life for the tribe.

The casino offers a way for its tribal community to fund several important programs like education, finance, health and housing.

Sky River generated a half billion dollars in its first year

It’s interesting to note that some casinos are illegal in California. For Californians who love to frequent casinos, it’s also interesting to point out that tribal land is not California land. Because of that, there are more than 60 California tribal casinos scattered across the state. One of the most recent to come online is Sky River Casino.

The $500 million casino first broke ground in March of 2021, with a surprise opening at midnight on Aug. 21, 2022. The casino features a gaming floor over 110,000 square feet. It is packed with 2,100 slot machines and 80 table games, accompanied by 17 bars and restaurants. The mammoth operation has accumulated over $250 million in its first year of operation.

The casino also provides significant revenue to Elk Grove and Sacramento County. The Wilton Racheria tribe has promised to invest over $130 million to help fund infrastructure and service projects. That includes a new fire station for the Cosumnes Fire Department expected to open in 2024. Around $4 million of the pledged $130 million has already made its way to the city of Elk Grove this year.

It’s been a long road for the Wilton Rancheria

For the Wilton Rancheria tribe, getting to the point of owning and operating a successful casino that allows its community to financially benefit has been difficult. It’s been a long road traveled.

Ancestors of the tribe signed a treaty in 1852 which ceded lands near the Cosumnes River for several tribes. Prior to that, the Native Americans of Northern California had survived decades of wars and battles with the Spanish, Mexicans and Americans. Then there were diseases, enslavement, indoctrination of the youth and other forms of violence brought upon the tribes due to the proximity of new settlements.

In 1929, people of the Wilton Rancheria Miwok and the Me-Wuk Community of the Wilton Rancheria came together to form a federally-recognized tribe, the Wilton Rancheria tribe. The tribe purchased just under 39 acres of land in Wilton, Sacramento County.

The US Congress established the Rancheria Act in 1958, which eventually stripped the Wilton Rancheria and 40 other tribes of their federal recognition. In 1991, members of the original Wilton Rancheria tribe reformed the tribe’s government after the US opted to give Native Americans the right of self-determination. The tribal government applied for the restoration of its federal recognition in 1999. It was granted in 2009. The tribal government established its constitution in 2011. Today, the tribe has 700 members in the southern Sacramento County area.

California gave approval for the Wilton Rancheria to build Sky River Casino in 2017. The tribe was then granted permission from the National Indian Gaming Commission to partner with Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming to manage the casino.

Casino allows tribe to be self-sufficient

For Wilton Rancheria tribal Chairman Jesus Tarango, the casino means everything to his community.

“It’s a way to get our way of life back.”

The casino has enabled the tribe to become self-sufficient. Tarango says it’s a far cry from the early days of the tribe just trying to keep its federally-recognized status.

“When you talk about that fight that the elders led, the basic things that our elders wanted for the people was housing, health care and education. So, when you look at what we’re celebrating today, the casinos are like what the buffalo meant to the Lakota, the Plains people: It’s a way of life, a way to sustain life. It fed them. It clothed them. It housed them. The casinos are that next buffalo for us.”

The tribe’s government now has the resources it needs for its departments to improve housing for people, offer families and the elderly health care, improve educational resources and fund scholarships for students.

Sky River Casino’s future

At the 2021 groundbreaking of Sky River, the Wilton Rancheria presented plans for a 300-room hotel with a pool, spa and entertainment venue, plus a 1,700-vehicle parking garage. Based on the casino’s first year of operation, nothing has altered those plans, Tarango says.

“The original plan hasn’t changed. Just to know what we’re building to complement what we have here, it makes me feel good about what’s happening. We’re giving different demographics a place to be.”

Boyd Gaming owns 64 acres of land neighboring Sky River, where the additions will more than likely be located. A timeline has yet to be announced. However, a cigar-and-spirits lounge, The Humidor, is expected to open by the end of the year.

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