Amador tribe cuts gaming deal with Newsom. Does Sacramento region have room for another casino?

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Dale Kasler
·3 min read
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Sacramento’s casino industry is already a major force in the gambling world, operating about as many slot machines as Reno.

Is there room for another casino?

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week signed a deal to allow a casino to open someday in Plymouth. The gaming compact between the state and the Ione Band of Miwok Indians sets the stage for the tribe to open the third casino in sparsely-populated Amador County.

The Ione Band’s venue would be the seventh casino in the greater Sacramento area, and possibly the eighth, depending on when a proposed tribal casino in Elk Grove gets built.

In any event, it will likely be years before the slot machines start chiming at the Ione Band’s facility, which would be on 220 acres near Highway 49 in Plymouth. Tribal chair Sara Dutschke said Thursday that the Ione Band isn’t ready to announce a partnership with a casino development or management company — a crucial step in bringing any casino project to fruition.

Dutschke said the tribe is still in the early planning stages, and “coronavirus has made that process slow.”

The 750-member Ione Band began working on the approvals more than a decade ago and endured years of litigation with Amador County officials and others over the proposed casino.

In 2015 a federal judge in Sacramento, dismissing lawsuits filed by the county and two groups opposed to the casino, ratified the U.S. government’s decision to take the 220 acres “into trust” for the tribe, a necessary step before the tribe could go forward. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs completed the acquisition of the land on the tribe’s behalf six months ago, the tribe said.

County officials couldn’t be reached for comment but Dutschke said the tribe believes the friction has ended. “We are working to build a strong relationship with the county,” she said.

Sacramento region filling up with casinos

But the years of litigation has complicated the tribe’s financial prospects somewhat, as more casinos have jumped into the market. One of the region’s newest casinos, Harrah’s Northern California, operates just a few miles south of the Plymouth site. The Harrah’s casino, opened in spring 2019, is owned by the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians.

“The landscape has changed dramatically since we embarked on this process,” Dutschke said.

The tribe is studying market conditions to “see what the market will bear,” she added. The compact with Newsom, which requires legislative approval, allows the tribe to operate as many as 1,200 slot machines, which would make it one of the smaller casinos in the Sacramento area.

Already the six tribal casinos in greater Sacramento operate nearly 13,000 slot machines, including the nearly 1,600 added when the area’s latest entrant, Hard Rock Resort & Casino, opened last October. The total rivals the Reno-Sparks market.

The Wilton Rancheria tribe had planned to open a $500 million casino-hotel in late 2020 in Elk Grove, bringing the total number of casinos to seven. However, the project has been delayed for about a year.