Friday, July 19, 2024
Sports Gaming Monitor

Death Valley Tribe gets BIA approval on California Casino

The Death Valley-based Timbisha Shoshone Tribe has received approval from the US Interior Department to build a casino in Inyokern, Calif. That’s two years after its effort to build one in the nearby city of Ridgecrest collapsed spectacularly.

According to a July 8 entry in the Federal Register, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs has agreed to take land earmarked for the casino into trust, a prerequisite for tribal gaming, as first reported by The Ridgecrest Daily Independent.

The Timbisha are unable to host a casino on their existing reservation because it forms part of the Death Valley National Park and so is subject to federal restrictions. The tribe has been trying to build a casino in the Ridgecrest area for the best part of a decade.

Initially, the project was largely supported by the city council, although some councilmembers were opposed. In 2016, the city signed a municipal services agreement (MSA) with the Timbisha in support of the casino as the tribe sought approval from the BIA.

However, local opposition began to grow because of social concerns and anxieties about water resources.

In late 2018, council officials voted to terminate the agreement, claiming the project had become divisive to the community. It argued the MSA had expired in October 2018 because no land-sale had occurred.

The Timbisha argued that the city was still legally bound to sell the plot under the terms of the MSA and threatened to sue.

Meanwhile, the tribe also claimed the BIA was deliberately delaying approval on the project. In May 2019, it sued the bureau asserting “undue political influence.”

Eventually, the tribe received a letter from the BIA showing the project had in fact been approved on September 27, 2018, shortly before the city council claimed the MSA had expired. The tribe claimed someone linked to the BIA was buying the council time to back out by suppressing the approval letter.

In 2020, the council settled with the tribe and its developer, Global Investment Enterprise Ridgecrest (GIER). The city agreed to sell the land to GIER for $5.5 million in return for the cessation of all litigation.

But then the pandemic struck, and unfortunately for the tribe, financing for casino projects dried up. The revived land-sale agreement expired in February 2022.

Conspiracy or not, the BIA’s approval of the new location is a major step forward for the tribe’s plan to move the project eight miles west.

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