10 Tribes Trying to Build New California Casinos. What’s the Latest?
As of September 2022, to the best of our knowledge, there are at least 10 California tribes with active casino projects either in the planning or construction phase. Adding any of those to the already existing 66 Indian casinos in California would bolster an industry that generates an average of $9 billion in annual revenue.
But the path toward a finished casino is a hard road as legal challenges, stiff opposition from tribes with established casinos, and various other barriers.
Here is a quick look at the current efforts of the newcomers to the world of California casinos. Then we’ll dive into each project in-depth.
|Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians/Big Lagoon Rancheria
|Stalled; need to acquire land in Barstow
|Chemehuevi Indian Tribe
|Awaiting federal approval to make 40 acres in Barstow qualify as reservation land
|Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians
|Still has to negotiate tribal-state gaming compact with governor
|Ione Band of Miwok Indians
|Approved, timeline to begin construction TBA
|Koi Nation of Northern California
|Awaiting approval from federal government to put land in its trust before it can negotiate gaming compact
|Mechoopda Indian Tribe
|Approved, construction underway
|North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California
|Approved, construction delayed
|Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians
|Plans rejected by the US Department of the Interior; currently in legal battle
|Tejon Indian Tribe
|Needs final approval by governor
|Timbisha Shoshone Tribe
|Construction scheduled to finish in 2022-23
Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians and Koi Nation Casinos
The Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians began formal plans to build a casino in Sonoma County in 2016 when the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognized the group’s tribal lands. The initial plans for the destination resort and casino included a complex between the Russian River and US Route 101.
The tribe still has to negotiate a gaming compact with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, muster local support, and get approval from the US Department of the Interior and California Legislature.
Sonoma County already has two tribal casinos: River Rock Casino, owned by the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, and Graton Resort and Casino, owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
In April, the Sonoma County Supervisors opposed plans by the Koi Nation of Northern California to build a casino in Windsor near Shiloh Ranch Regional Park in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. The tribe purchased 68.8 acres for the project. In a unanimous vote, the supervisors based their decision on the assertion that the tribe lacked a historical connection to the land where the casino would be constructed. Five other tribes joined the supervisors in opposing the plan. They include:
- Kashia Band of Pomo Indians
- Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians
- Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians
- Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria
- Lytton Band of Pomo Indians
Koi Nation hopes the federal government approves its request to put the purchased 68.8 acres in its trust. If that happens, it can begin negotiating a tribal-state gaming compact. Sonoma County’s opposition doesn’t doom Koi Nation’s chances, but it doesn’t help.
Ione Band of Miwok Indians Want to Add a 3rd Casino in Amador County
After a long struggle that included court battles, local political opposition, and other hurdles, the Ione Band of Miwok Indians can move forward to add a casino in Amador County. Located in the Sierra Nevada area of the state, the casino would be the third in the area.
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The tribe began its efforts to erect a casino in 2004. The county insisted that the tribe didn’t have historical ties to the land and sued the tribe in federal court. However, a judge sided with the tribe in a 2015 decision and final approval was granted in August 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the tribe’s construction plans.
The casino will offer 1,200 slot machines, 40 table games, and four eateries, plus a 250-room hotel, 1,200-seat conference center, and pool.
Mechoopda Indian Tribe Casino Under Construction
The Mechoopda Indian Tribe is already building its casino in Chico. Approval for a facility came in 2019 from federal, state, and local authorities. The tribe entered a partnership with the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi-Yokut Tribe to run the casino. That tribe owns Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, north of Bakersfield.
Construction on a Mechoopda casino temporary casino facility began in May. The entire 91-acre project is expected to take 12 months to complete. The casino will have 500 slot machines, 10 table games, 42,000 square feet of gaming space, and a food court.
North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California Casino
Like some other tribes, the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California also had to fight in court to get permission to build a casino. A ruling from the California Supreme Court in 2020 gave the tribe the go-ahead to build a facility near Madera in the San Joaquin Valley. But a case filed against the tribe in July 2021 has indefinitely delayed construction.
The tribe unveiled its plans in 2003 in a partnership with the Las Vegas-based Station Casinos.
The $400 million project will include a hotel and a casino with 2,000 slot machines, table games, retail shops, an entertainment lounge, and restaurants on 305 acres. The timetable to complete the project is 18 months after construction crews break ground, whenever that happens. The tribe recently secured a liquor license for the complex.
Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians Plans Rejected
The Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians sought to construct a $700 million destination resort and casino in 2016 near Vallejo in the San Francisco Bay Area. After three years, the US Department of the Interior rejected the proposal. The tribe sued the Trump administration for denying the tribe’s plans, but legally the tribe cannot move forward. So, things are on hold for now with the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians.
Tejon Indian Tribe’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
The Tejon Indian Tribe has plans to construct Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tejon in Kern County. With an estimated construction cost of $600 million, the entertainment complex will sit on 320 acres near Interstate 5 south of Bakersfield. It will feature 3,000 slot machines and 166,5000 square feet of gaming space. The tribe estimates that the casino complex will bring 5,000 jobs to the area and take 20 months to build.
The project needs the final approval of Gov. Newsom after the California Senate approved plans last week.
Timbisha Shoshone Tribe Casino
The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe casino proposal includes a hotel, a convention center, retail shops, and a player’s club. While the tribe received federal approval for construction of the project in 2019, it was a process the Timbisha Shoshone claimed was stalled by the Trump administration. That dispute was resolved, and the tribe is currently building its 20,000-square-foot casino in Ridgecrest.
The casino, which is expected to be completed in late 2022 or 2023, will feature 349 slot machines and six table games. A hotel will be built later. The total construction cost was estimated at $45.8 million.
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Barstow Casino Projects
For over two decades, tribes have been fighting to get approval to build a casino near Barstow in San Bernardino County. The struggle includes competing proposals from the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe and a partnership of the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians and the Big Lagoon Rancheria.
The Chemehuevi Tribe claims historical rights to the land, and the Barstow City Council approved an agreement with the tribe in July 2021 on the location of the casino. The Chemehuevi Tribe owns 40 acres inside the city limits and already operates the Havasu Landing Resort & Casino in the Needles area. It now awaits federal approval to put those 40 acres in the tribe’s trust so it can start negotiating a tribal-state gaming compact.
The Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians and Big Lagoon Rancheria plans seem to be in limbo. Barstow demanded the removal of its development partner from the project, BarWest Gaming, in October 2020. And neither of the tribes own any land in Barstow.
How Prop 26, Sports Betting Could Help Future Casinos
Seven of these tribes working on casinos have publicly endorsed Prop 26, a measure on the November ballot that would legalize sports betting only in-person at California casinos and horse racetracks. The opposing measure, Prop 27, would legalize sports betting only online and via mobile devices.
These casinos no doubt want to offer sports betting in some capacity at their future casinos. So it makes sense why they support Prop 26. Legalized in-person sports betting could swell California casinos revenue to an even more gaudy number.
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