Inside Koi Nation’s Ongoing, Controversial Fight To Build Shiloh Resort & Casino

Written By Andrew Bain on February 15, 2024
Rendering of Shiloh Resort & Casino for a story on Koi Nation's ongoing, controversial fight to build the tribal casino in Sonoma County

The Koi Nation’s plans for Shiloh Resort and Casino continue to gather momentum and goodwill. Last month, the tribe announced the support of a wide-ranging coalition including labor unions, 18 tribal governments, and public agencies — not to mention current and former elected officials including California State Treasurer Fiona Ma.

PlayCA obtained information and answers via email from several members of Koi Nation leadership for this piece, including Chairman Darin Beltran, Vice Chairman and Director of Development Dino Beltran, and Secretary Judy Fast Horse

And tribe leadership is happy with this new show of support.

“The list of supporters continues to grow as more people come to understand our efforts to establish and exercise the sovereign rights the Koi and all federally recognized tribes share under federal law,” leaders told PlayCA in an email.

As the Nation waits for responses and consideration of an Environmental Assessment conducted by Acorn Environmental on behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, it’s a good time to take stock of those efforts to add to the ranks of casinos in Northern California

  • Where is the project located?
  • Where did it come from?
  • And why has it been a source of debate?

Koi Nation has been landless since 1947

To fully understand the Koi Nation’s efforts to develop a casino on land it purchased in 2021 in Sonoma County, we have to travel back to the 1850s

Koi Nation is one of 109 federally recognized Indigenous tribes in California but has been landless since the 1850s. In 1851 and 1852, the tribe signed two treaties with the United States government that were supposed to officially give the tribe sovereign land. Congress failed to ratify those treaties, however, leaving the Koi Nation without officially sanctioned territory — essentially rendering them squatters on their own land.

According to a tribal history outlined in the 2019 case Koi Nation of N. Cal. v. U.S. Dept of the Interior, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) eventually purchased a 141-acre tract of land in Lake County in 1916, which became the tribe’s Rancheria.

However, the land was of poor quality. As Dino Beltran told the Press Democrat in 2021: “But it was uninhabitable. … (There was) no water. It was very rocky and you couldn’t grow anything on it, so no one lived there.”

In 1947, the BIA ordered Koi Nation to either continue living on this land or lose their rights to it. The vast majority of tribe members left, and the government sold off the Koi Nation’s land to serve as the site of an airport. The Koi Nation was essentially treated as though it was not a sovereign people until 2000, when the Department of the Interior reaffirmed the Koi Nation’s status as a federally recognized tribe.

Koi Nation purchases land and unveils casino plans

In 2021, the tribe purchased 68 acres of land in Sonoma County and unveiled plans for a $600 million casino resort on it. The project calls for 1.2 million square feet, 2,500 slot and gaming machines, a 200-room hotel, six restaurants and food service areas, a meeting center, and a spa. Once completed, it would be the third Vegas-style casino in Sonoma County. 

It would also inevitably compete with the nearby Graton Resort & Casino, owned and operated by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which is the largest gaming operation currently in the area. 

These plans met with resistance and some inflammatory statements. In a 2021 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Greg Sarris accused the Koi Nation of “reservation shipping.” 

According to the Chronicle, the Federation did not respond at the time to emails requesting further clarification of its stance. 

The Federation’s reticence to comment holds true in 2023 as well. An email inquiry from PlayCA to the tribe asking for an interview was responded to via a publicist, who stated they would “be unable to provide an interview.” A subsequent request for statement via email from PlayCA went unanswered

Opposition also came from several other local tribes (including the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, who own another casino in the area) and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted to oppose the project in April 2022, though it should be noted that the County has no say in whether the project moves forward.

It should also be noted that Sonoma County officials declined to be interviewed for this article.

What is the root of this opposition?

Opposition to the project, which comes most vocally from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and was announced days after the Koi Nation announced its plans for the Shiloh Casino and Resort, leans on the argument that the Koi Nation should not be able to acquire the land itself.

That argument is based on a perceived lack of historical ties to the area and a concern over sovereignty. 

The Koi Nation believes it has clear historical ties to the area.

“Our historic ties to the land have been demonstrated in multiple ways, including an historic Koi trade route that passed directly through the property and the relocation of our key leadership and community over a century ago to Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, California,” leaders told PlayCA. “There are nearly two dozen other tribes who recognize those ties.”

One factor looms large here: The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria operate the largest casino currently operating in the area, with which the Koi Nation’s Shiloh Casino would be a clear competitor. The Koi Nation believes that opposition stems purely from a desire to avoid competition and maintain a monopoly on gaming.

Koi Nation actually has had a working relationship with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria

It’s also interesting to note that the Federation has had no issue with the Koi Nation operating in the region in the past via a printing press located a quarter-mile away from the Graton Casino. In fact, Koi Nation leadership told PlayCA that the largest client for that printing press was none other than the Graton Casino, and that Chairman Sarris “directed his upper management staff at the casino to do business with our company.”

Koi Nation leadership also told PlayCA that it reached out to the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria before announcing the tribe’s plans for the Shiloh Casino.

“We afforded a call to the Graton Tribe just prior to the announcement of our project,” they said via email, “and offered them the first right of refusal to be our partner in our resort project.” 

So … what happens now?

And that brings us up to speed on the Shiloh Resort and Casino.

So, where do we stand now?

Acorn Environmental is preparing responses to the comments received from the community during the Environmental Assessment’s comment period, which ended in November 2023. The Bureau of Indian Affairs continues to consider the Environmental Assessment as well.

The Koi Nation plans to begin work on its casino as soon as all required approvals are in place.

Photo by Koi Nation Sonoma
Andrew Bain Avatar
Written by
Andrew Bain

Andrew lives in Los Angeles with his wife, where they spend much of their time with their rescue dog, Rory, and their horse, Lancelot. When he’s not working, Andrew’s usually listening to an audiobook or finding a new recipe to cook. He’s loved baseball for his entire life, and his two favorite teams are the Seattle Mariners and the Pittsburgh Pirates (he knows that's an odd pair of teams, thank you very much).

View all posts by Andrew Bain
Privacy Policy