Koi Nation Unveils Plans For Casino Near Windsor, Invokes Skepticism From Community

Written By Derek Helling on September 29, 2021

Whether a Koi Nation casino near Windsor ever becomes a reality likely depends on whose lobbying efforts prove most effective in Sacramento.

The 90-member Pomo tribe recently unveiled ambitious plans for the facility on its land.

Not everyone with ties to Sonoma County is enthused about the project, however. In fact, individuals who could hold sway over its future seem skeptical about the casino’s viability at best.

Plans for Koi Nation casino in California

The tribe recently unveiled plans for what it’s calling the Shiloh Resort & Casino. The facility would share its name with a nearby public space, the Shiloh Ranch Regional Park. The property it would sit upon is 68 acres of former vineyard that the Koi Nation purchased earlier this year for $12.3 million.

The designs include 1.2 million square feet of a multipurpose facility. In addition to over 2,500 slot machines and gaming tables, the tribe wants to include:

  • A 200-room hotel
  • Convention space
  • Six restaurants
  • Spa accommodations

The tribe says it has already filed its fee to trust application to the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). If granted, the 68-acre tract would then become sovereign territory. While that would mean the Koi could begin construction, it would not entitle them to offer gambling right away.

To do that, the tribe would need to negotiate a gaming compact with the BIA and the state of California. That’s the part of the plans that are currently triggering the greatest opposition. It’s also where that opposition could prove most effective.

Could getting a gaming compact prove difficult for Koi Nation?

Right now, there seems to be little local support for a casino on the specified land. For example, Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore articulated the limitations of the county’s position.

“I am opposed personally to new casinos in Sonoma County. At the same time, I have to honor the process that is before it and I have to work with that process.”

What Gore refers to is that if the land is taken into trust and a gaming compact approved, there’s not much the local governments can do. Their best hope in blocking a casino might be to sway state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom their way. They might have a headstart in that, actually.

“We are just learning about the details of this project,” said Sen. Mike McGuire, whose district includes Sonoma County. “Based off of its initial description, the size and scope is deeply concerning. Sonoma County doesn’t need another casino and I oppose any new gaming outlets. While I honor and respect tribal sovereignty, this is not the right plan for the north county.”

When McGuire refers to “another casino,” he is speaking of the proposed location’s proximity to existing CA tribal casinos. The Graton Resort and Casino, currently the Bay Area’s largest, is just 15 miles away. The River Rock Casino is a mere 20 miles away.

Still, there might be hope for the Koi Nation to resolve local objections before they impact their fate in Sacramento. At least that’s the messaging out of the tribe right now.

Koi Nation expresses willingness to listen

Dino Beltran, the Koi Nation’s vice chair, says the tribe is open to feedback from the local community.

“We’re going to be very open-eared to what people have to say,” Beltran commented. “We’ll have the community outreach and deal with what folks’ concerns are.”

Part of the federal approval process is a local environmental impact study, so there will be some feedback inherent in that. This isn’t the first time that Windsor has faced the prospect of a casino butting up against its city limits.

In fact, Sonoma County convinced the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians to abandon plans for a casino in the county in 2015. A noticeable difference between that situation and this, however, is that tribal group has another casino elsewhere in California. This would be the first and only such operation for the Koi Nation, which only gained federal recognition in 2019.

If the Koi Nation can’t resolve differences with Sonoma County and Windsor and they are unable to sway officials in Sacramento, the Koi Nation casino project may never become more than just that, a project.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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