Professor Kathryn Rand, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at UND is quoted
Koi partnering with Chickasaw Nation on Shiloh casino proposed for Windsor area
When the Koi Nation, an economically disadvantaged local Pomo band with approximately 90 members, announced last September that it had purchased land for a major casino project in an unincorporated area near Windsor, many wondered from where the money and expertise would come.
The answer came Monday, when Koi leaders revealed a predevelopment agreement with the Chickasaw Nation, a much larger tribe that owns 23 casinos in Oklahoma.
Under the agreement, Global Gaming Solutions — a wholly owned Chickasaw business — would partner with the Koi on its planned Shiloh Casino & Resort. The company would also manage and operate the facility on East Shiloh Road on Windsor’s eastern outskirts.
Koi leaders say the enterprise will include 2,500 Las Vegas-style gaming machines, a 200-room hotel, six restaurants and food service areas, a meeting center and a spa. In all, the complex will employ more than 1,100 full-time workers when fully operational.
The Chickasaw generated a data model within a 125-mile radius from the Shiloh site, and determined there is demand for a gambling facility of this size.
“The word ‘saturation’ gets used a lot in gaming,” said Sean Boyd, executive officer for marketing and business development for the Chickasaw Nation. “Our modeling shows this area is nowhere near that point.”
The Chickasaw Nation, based in Ada, Oklahoma, is a commercially successful tribe, with at least 200 business ventures. Its 23 gaming establishments include WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Oklahoma, which the tribe bills as the largest casino in the world.
“We’re honored that the Chickasaw Nation would consider moving forward with us on this project,” Koi vice chair and director of development Dino Beltran told The Press Democrat. “When it comes to industry, infrastructure, hospitality and Native American values, we feel we found a great partner moving forward, on those fronts alone.”
The Koi were “courted by quite a few” tribes seeking partnership in the Shiloh development, Beltran added. He said it would have been difficult for the Koi to proceed alone on a development of this scale.
“I think at the end of day, it’s probably a matter of means to help us get through the process,” he said. “And we had limitations there.”
That acknowledgment is prudent on the part of the Koi, said Kathryn Rand, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota.
“If I were giving advice to a new casino operator, I’d tell them to look for experienced partners,” Rand said. “The area of tribal gaming and gaming regulations are very specific. A tribal operator, even one in Oklahoma, will operate under the same federal laws and regulations. They know what compacts mean.”
In Rand’s opinion, the Chickasaw’s most important contributions could be political.
“I think you would expect a small tribe that had not yet had the benefit of running a casino would need outside expertise and investment. That’s no surprise,” Rand said. “But who they choose can have political blowback depending on local and state politics. This is complete speculation on my part, but that could be one of reasons the Koi Nation has reached out to a tribal partner.”
Operating another tribe’s casino isn’t a new enterprise for the Chickasaw. They currently manage the Golden Mesa Casino in Guymon, Oklahoma, for the Shawnee Nation, Boyd said. The Chickasaw assisted the Shawnee through state and federal regulatory protocols.
“All recognized tribes have the right to be self-sufficient,” Boyd said. “A tribe like the Koi Nation, we believe we can assist them with their goals. And while there may be money to be made, (self-sufficiency is) really the core value of who we are as a tribe.”
This could be a big opportunity for the Chickasaw. All of their 23 existing casinos are in Oklahoma. Only one state has a larger Indian gaming industry than that one: California.
“This could be a signal that the Chickasaw Nation is looking to expand its role in gaming beyond Oklahoma,” Rand said.
The Koi Nation, a distinct band of Pomo Indians with roots in modern-day Lake and Sonoma counties, purchased the 68-acre property in Shiloh for $12.3 million in September. The project was immediately opposed by neighbors, and by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who own the Graton Casino & Resort in Rohnert Park.
Four months ago, Graton tribal chairman Greg Sarris called the Shiloh proposal “an egregious attempt at reservation shopping outside the Koi Nation’s traditional territory and within the territory of other federally recognized tribes.”
Sarris did not respond to a request for comment on the Koi tribe’s newest announcement Monday.
Koi families have lived in Sonoma County for a few generations, but their ancestral homeland is an island in Clear Lake, and on the surrounding shores. Proximity of those homelands to a casino site is significant to the Department of the Interior, Rand said. The Shiloh resort site is about 60 miles from lower Clear Lake.
Dino Beltran said Koi tribal leaders have had little communication with local political leaders since the original announcement in September, and he is uncertain of their current stances on the project. He knows some residents are hostile to the casino, but he believes they are misinformed in some ways.
“I don’t know where people get these theories,” he said. “One very popular thing that has been stated from the public is that we had a Las Vegas backer. We’ve never even spoken to a Las Vegas interest. And they think the developer is getting all the money. That’s just not true.”
Williams said she and other residents have been active behind the scenes since September, focusing on interaction with federal decision makers. To her, an Oklahoma tribal nation is no more palatable than a Las Vegas developer.
“We have to stay hopeful our local tribes can defeat this,” she said. “And I feel for them, too. Not only is this an outside tribe, they’re now partnering with a tribe from another state?”
The hurdles in front of the Koi Nation remain significant. The Koi can enter into partnership with the larger Chickasaw Nation, but the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, dictates that the local tribe must have at least a 60% financial stake — and possibly more, depending on any eventual state compact.
Meanwhile, the Koi must navigate local politics, sure to be heated in an area with major traffic and water concerns.
“I respect their rights to develop their proposal how they want, but this overall project is still in the ‘if’ stage with respect to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has yet to signal if it’s going to take this land into trust,” said Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the Koi casino site.
But the Koi don’t necessarily have to wait passively for the U.S. Department of Interior to approve the land-into-trust agreement that would allow the tribe to build its casino, Rand said. They own the property and can break ground any time, as long as they follow local regulations, though those could prove more onerous and time consuming than the state compact and federal trust processes.
Still, teaming up with a well-regarded tribe like the Chickasaw Nation, the Rand said, could help reassure some Sonoma County stakeholders.
“They’re going to partner with an experienced tribe who has been successful, not only in gaming but in building strong relations with surrounding communities,” Rand said. “If you end up with a tribal casino in your backyard, you certainly want it to be a well-run casino.”