Buena Vista Rancheria hits another milestone after win in homelands case

The Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians is on track to a brighter future after securing victory in a long-running tribal homelands case.

The tribe announced a "definitive agreement" with gaming giant Caesars Entertainment on Friday. The deal will bring a Harrah's-branded casino to northern California in 2019.

"Harrah's is a world-class brand that is known for offering a fun gaming atmosphere with unparalleled customer service," Chairwoman Rhonda L. Morningstar Pope-Flores said in a press release. "We're confident that it will attract more people to our destination."

The Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians and Caesars Entertainment broke ground on a gaming facility in Amador County, California, on April 11, 2018. From left: Caesars Senior Director Development Bryant Pettey, Buena Vista Gaming Authority Director Ronald Pina, Buena Vista Vice Chair Jessalynn Pastran, Buena Vista Chairwoman Rhonda Morningstar Pope Flores, Buena Vista Councilman Jesse Archuleta, BVGA Director Jeremy Bernan, Buena Vista Gaming Authority Chairman Samuel L. Jackson and Caesars Regional President Robert Livingston. Photo: Caesars Entertainment

The milestone comes after the tribe's land-into-trust application was upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last November. The case was so strong that the judges assigned to the lawsuit didn't even bother to hold an oral argument.

The tribe was one of the many victims of the federal government's disastrous termination policy and was restored to recognition through a court settlement. As part of the agreement, Amador County accepted the Buena Vista Rancheria as a "reservation" and can't revisit the designation decades later, the court wrote in its two-page order.

The county subsequently asked the court to rehear the case. The request was denied in a brief order on January 3.

Despite the win, the protracted litigation inflicted a toll on the gaming project, which has been in limbo since the Bush administration. According to International Financing Review, the tribe is paying one of the highest interest rates ever seen on a bond package -- more than double the typical rates, the publication reported.

Still, the $205 million package marks significant progress. With Caesars on board, plans call for a 71,000 square-foot facility with 950 state-of-the-art slots, 20 table games, a full-service restaurant and three casual eateries at Harrah's Northern California.

"This agreement with the Buena Vista Gaming Authority advances our growth strategy to expand the reach of our brands into new markets and reinforces our over 20-year history working with tribal partners," said Mark Frissora, President and CEO of Caesars Entertainment. Groundbreaking took place last Wednesday.

As part of the deal, Caesars will manage the facility, an arrangement permitted under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The tribe will pay a fee to the firm for the services.

Under the Harrah's name, Caesars runs the Harrah’s Resort Southern California for the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians. The Buena Vista deal brings the firm to the northern part of the state the first time. California is the largest tribal gaming market in the United States, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The Buena Vista court decision marked one in a string of victories for tribal homelands. The latest came last week for the Mechoopda Tribe, another California-based victim of termination.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Amador County v. Department of the Interior (November 27, 2017)

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