Local Support For Bakersfield Casino Seems Strong, Regulatory Decision Looms

Posted on July 17, 2020

It’s an interesting time to operate or be looking to operate a tribal casino in California. While many call for the existing casinos to close their doors to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, support for a Bakersfield casino seems to be at an all-time high.

Kern County residents recently expressed their positive opinions about the proposed facility. Regardless, there are significant legal hurdles ahead.

What Kern Co. residents said about the casino project

A public hearing of the US Bureau of Indian Affairs turned into a cheerleading session for the proposal on July 8. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

“This is really a game-changer. We’ve all heard about the $600 million impact of the project, but that does not count the future, new money coming into our economy,” said Kern Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Richard Chapman. “This is going to create much needed economic parity.”

The Tejon Tribe is looking at 306 acres south of Bakersfield as the potential reservation site for its community. The tribe is currently without a place to call home.

In addition to a $600 million Hard Rock-branded casino and hotel development, the tribe wants to establish residential areas, a farm, and a park on the acreage. The proposal promises 2,000 new and permanent jobs.

“Today is important because it is a step toward reestablishing a tribal homeland for the Tejon Indian Tribe,” Tejon Tribe Chairman Octavio Escobedo said.

While there is little debate about the demand for the casino, whether it will ultimately happen is up in the air. That’s not only up to the US Department of the Interior but the state of California as well.

The necessary steps to begin construction for the casino

Before the Tejon Tribe can move ahead, the Department of the Interior has to take the land in question into trust for the tribe. There’s no timeline for when they may decide whether to do so.

The bureau is currently seeking public comments, which runs through July 27. After that, they will begin deliberations. If the department should decide in the tribe’s favor, that will lead to the next step.

The tribe would then need to form a gaming compact with California. That should prove relatively easy, however. The community support should facilitate that process.

After the tribe checks off both of those items, it could break ground. It’s unclear how long construction would take, but the best-case scenario would be within a year of securing a compact.

What’s certain at this point is that there is little opposition to the project in the immediate area. That may help grease the wheels for a Hard Rock Casino near Bakersfield in the future.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. 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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