The Koi Nation has released plans to build a casino resort on what it claims are its ancestral lands in Sonoma, California.
Shiloh Resort & Casino would have 2,500 Class III gambling machines and employ 1,100 full-time employees. It would also have a 200-room hotel, six restaurants, and a spa.
This project’s announcement has no impact on whether it will actually happen, though.
The Koi Nation is in the middle of decades-long legal battle to secure reservation land. It was a federally recognized tribe under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which laid the foundation of the modern reservation system. As a federally recognized tribe, it was supposed to enjoy the benefits those tribes were eligible for, including reservation land.
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However, the Department of the Interior terminated and sold the Koi Nation’s land in 1956. The Koi Nation wasn’t federally recognized again until 2000 and didn’t gain the ability to conduct gambling on its own land until 2019.
Now, the Koi Nation awaits word from the DOI regarding a 68.8-acre parcel of land.
If the federal government puts that land in the Koi Nation’s reservation trust, it can begin negotiating a tribal-state gaming compact with California. There would also be a 60-90-day environmental review and comment period.
If the government instead sides with the Sonoma County Council and five local tribes, who don’t believe the Koi Nation has the proper ancestral ties to the land, and in turn does not give the Koi Nation the land, this legal battle will rage on. The land for the proposed casino sits about 10 miles from what the tribe says are its historic lands in California’s Pomo territory.
Until the DOI comes to a decision, however, it’s worth exploring the ramifications of Shiloh Resort & Casino.
Koi Nation Casino Partnership
Shiloh Resort & Casino won’t just create jobs on the Koi Nation land. It’s also a major project with ripple effects. One of its major partners is Global Gaming Solutions (GGS), which is owned by the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.
“Not only does the Chickasaw Nation have great expertise in gaming and resorts, but they also share the same values as the Koi Nation,” Koi Nation Vice Chair and Director of Development Dino Beltran told California Casinos. “Chickasaw leaders understand the importance of this project to the restoration of our economic self-reliance because they have walked the same path many times in support of their own people’s future.”
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GGS also operates Winstar World Casino and Resort, the world’s largest casino. This is in addition to the 23 other gambling establishments it operates in the US.
“We are excited by the opportunity to use our expertise to help the Koi Nation realize this project and establish the economic self-sufficiency that is the inherent right of all Native American tribes,” Commerce Secretary of the Chickasaw Nation, Bill Lance, said. “We look forward to beginning a successful long-term economic partnership with the Koi.”
Consequences of Reservation Loss
When a tribe has its reservation land taken away, it also loses its right to self-governance and any ongoing projects are upended.
When the DOI stripped the Koi Nation of its land, one of the consequences was a loss of federal assistance each reservation is entitled to. This is crucial funding that can help with anything from public services on reservation land to economic development programs.
Other tribes have faced this hardship, too. When the Trump administration tried to strip the Mashpee Wampanoag of its reservation in Massachusetts, PBS listed some of the projects and institutions that would have to end, including the tribe’s:
- Independent judicial system
- Self-sufficient police force
- $1 billion resort casino
Almost losing its reservation would’ve interrupted open judicial cases, disbanded a job-creating local police force, and eliminated a potential source of long-term revenue for the tribe.
Tribal casino projects are about more than the casino. They’re ways to attract tourism, generate revenue, and improve the economic conditions of the entire tribe. This rarely results in direct checks for tribal members. But a large booming business can play an important role in breaking the cycle of poverty. At least for some struggling tribal members.
That doesn’t mean a casino is an ultimate solution for prosperity. Tribal casino performance depends as much on the free market as any other business. But for the families whose get a family member gets a job at a lucrative company, the difference is absolute.
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