Trump Administration Signed Off Tejon Tribe’s Hard Rock Bakersfield, California Casino Proposal

Posted on: January 22, 2021, 12:28h. 

Last updated on: January 22, 2021, 01:22h.

The outgoing Trump administration earlier this month approved plans for a $600 million Hard Rock-branded casino just outside Bakersfield, Calif.

Hard Rock Bakersfield
A rendering of the casino, proposed for Mettler, Kern County, 14 miles south of Bakersfield. (Image: turnto23)

The proposal from the Tejon Indian Tribe includes a 166,500-square foot gaming floor, an 11-story hotel with 400 rooms, convention space, 13 restaurants, and a Hard Rock Live events center. Once up and running, the project is expected to support 3,000 full-time jobs.

Tribal chairman Octavio Escobedo III said in an official statement that the decision by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) enabled the Tejon to “move closer to the promise of self-determination through economic development.”

From the start of our relationship with the United States government in 1851, our Tribe has fought for a homeland for our people,” Escobedo said. “Today, we are two major steps closer to that dream.”

In June 2019, Tejon announced it partnered with Hard Rock International in a development and operating deal. In his statement, Escobedo said the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which owns Hard Rock International, had “stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us to help make our dream of restoring our land base a close-at-hand reality.”

Tribal Homeland

The Tejon tribe was federally recognized in 2012. Three years later, it applied to have the parcel of land earmarked for the casino taken into trust.

This is the process by which the federal government converts non-tribal land into tribal land, thereby partially removing it from the jurisdiction of the state. This makes casino gaming legally possible under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (1988).

When making its decision, the BIA must determine whether gaming is in the best interests of the tribe and the surrounding community.

“These decisions are a necessary and significant steps toward the development of a tribal homeland for the Tribe, which was landless for more than 150 years,” Escobedo said.

Eyes on Newsom       

The final sign off now rests with California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). There’s no word on whether the Democratic governor has any strong feelings for or against the casino, although the tribe has many reasons to be optimistic.

Governors are usually required to concur with the DOI when it comes to awarding land-into-trust for tribal gaming. Meanwhile, the project largely has the support of the public and local elected officials. An environmental impact report on the plans, which took over five years to complete, was received positively by the BIA. It contained dozens of messages of local support from local residents.

In a message to the BIA, however, the anti-casino group Stand Up for California described the report as “inadequate” and “deficient in numerous respects.”