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When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1987 the right of federally-recognized tribes acting as sovereign nations to conduct gaming on Indian lands free of state control, the recently re-instated Redding Rancheria had slightly less than 31 acres on which to operate and a tribal council that was struggling to maintain the salary of its one paid employee.
Unemployment was running at nearly 87 percent among the Wintu, Yana and Pit River tribal members who made up Redding Rancheria. The tribal government had a budget of $40,000 in 1989, remembers Barbara Murphy, who was hired that year as its executive director.
For the previous six months in 1988, while still living and working in British Columbia, Murphy had offered advice to her elder brother and others on the tribal council on a seemingly never-ending series of proposals from investors intent on contracting their services to manage a high-stakes bingo hall on Redding Rancheria land.
The tribal elders, led by Murphy, negotiated a loan and management contract in 1988 that preserved Redding Rancheria’s sovereignty rights and gave preferential treatment to tribal members for casino employment and management training.
Within its first 17 months of operation, tribal elders paid off the $1.2 million loan with interest and canceled the investor’s management contract.
By 1993, when Redding Rancheria converted the bingo hall to a full-fledged casino with card games and slot machines, the tribal council’s budget had grown to $4.2 million annually. In 1996, the tribal council was dealing with a $40 million budget.
This week, Redding Rancheria is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Win-River Casino, opened in 1993 following a $2.7 million renovation and expansion to replace the metal-sided bingo hall with a small, but fully-equipped casino.
Since then, the casino has expanded two more times — once in 2005 with a $40 million upgrade that added convention space, corporate offices and other amenities — and the soon-to-be-completed addition of an 85-room resort hotel and spa, also priced at $40 million, said General Manager Gary Hayward.
Hayward is a nephew of Murphy’s who came back to Redding Rancheria in 1990 following a stint in the U.S. Air Force to work at the bingo hall and is now the casino’s general manager.
“It’s kind of surreal. Each morning as I drive in to go to work, I sit in the parking lot to finish my cup of coffee as I watch the hotel construction. I often think about how much we have changed in the last 20 years,” said Hayward, now 45.
Although the tribal council does not release annual revenue and expense figures from the casino’s operations, Hayward said he expects the latest expansion to pay for itself in less than 10 years.
Hayward will also add another 55 employees — 45 at the hotel itself and another 10 in the hotel gift shop, spa and restaurant — bringing the total of casino employees to more than 400.
In 2010-2011, the casino itself averaged 360 employees and paid $12.5 million in payroll and benefits, he said. It also paid $1,090,760 in payroll taxes during that two-year period and paid $26.5 million to more than 9,400 non-local vendors and another 2,500 local vendors, he said.
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