Native gambler
A Lodi man who calls himself the chief of the Winnemucca Indian Colony is trying to sell California officials on a casino along Interstate 5 in Flag City, west of Lodi.

William Bills, the son of Filipino parents who grew up in Stockton and was adopted by a member of the Winnemucca tribe, came to public attention in 2000-2001 when tragic events unfolded on the Winnemucca colony (“
Murder of a leader,” RN&R, January 11 2001), a block east of Bridge Street.

The tribe had learned of Bills’ adoption, which cast his claim to being a member of the tribe into doubt. Shortly after the rejection by the tribal council of Bills’ proposal for a casino in Winnemucca, a hearing was scheduled at which tribal chief Glenn Wasson was expected to make the case for revoking Bills’ membership in the tribe on grounds he had no Native American blood. Two weeks before the meeting, Wasson was murdered.

That set off a power struggle within the tribe. Bills, as tribal vice chairman, ascended to the top spot. The tribe has been in turmoil ever since. Federal courts have never rendered a final decision, so the tribe’s leadership remains in limbo.

Earlier this year, Bills—who said he lives in Lodi—announced plans for the Winnemucca colony to open a casino on 18 vacant acres near Flag City Boulevard. He said it would cost perhaps $30 million that would be supplied by five unnamed investors. The proposal lists “Bill” as his last name rather than “Bills,” the name he was known by in Nevada.

Bills said the casino, to be known as Great Basin Casino, would be 20,000 square feet, with slots, poker, blackjack and other table games. He said the tribe is entitled to build in San Joaquin County under the terms of an 1863 treaty. He offered the county 5 percent of the take and said he would use profits to build a health facility on the Winnemucca colony.

He told the Tracy Press earlier this month, “We’re not the money hungry type. We just want to economically develop and help tribal members and the community.”

County Supervisor Jack Sieglock quickly came out in opposition to the project because of undesirable social effects gambling brings with it and because gambling soaks those who can least afford it.

However, Lodi Mayor John Beckman, without committing himself, said he could see both benefits and unfavorable effects from a casino.

The casino would need both state and local approvals, and those may not be the biggest obstacles it faces. U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo of California has introduced a measure to crack down on tribes building casinos outside their own land.

Because some tribes do not have favorable locations for their casinos, they have been known to acquire land outside their own territory as casino sites.

Bills’ ambiguous tribal status quickly became known in California after the casino proposal was made public. GamblingMagazine.com reported on June 10, “The man looking to build a casino resort at Flag City, west of Lodi, comes from a tribe currently divided by a feud and unrecognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. William Bill says he is the tribal chief of the Winnemucca Indian Colony, but that claim has been disputed by another tribal family, the Wassons.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...