I believe it was right after Mayor Johnson's "Proposal Heard 'Round the World" at the Board of Governor's meeting a couple of weeks ago that we really started hearing about this shift to a "regional effort" that somehow gave Sacramento's hopes for a new arena a chance that it didn't have in prior failed attempts. Now we have news that a Regional Authority is being formed with the 6 counties that make up the greater Sacramento area to oversee funding of the new complex (though, it appears that there is now reason to believe that this news may not be true. But the dramatic move towards a regional effort is very real, in any case). I've been wondering what this regional effort means exactly. How can the good people of Yolo, Placer, and the other surrounding counties really help to build a new arena in downtown Sacramento? I don't question why they would want to help, I just struggle to comprehend what form that help will take. We know that this thing will take some kind of public-private partnership to get done. Assuming that there will be no public vote on a general tax increase in Sacramento or any county, and knowing that some combination of hotel/cab/airport taxes or fees really only make sense in Sacramento County, what in the world can the surrounding counties really do to help with the one thing that has always been lacking, the funding?
I read a while back that the Pittsburgh Penguin's new arena, which was built by none other than ICON Venue group, was funded almost entirely by casinos:
The Lemieux Group reached an agreement with Isle of Capri Casinos, which offered to fully fund a US$290 million arena, if Capri could also construct a $500 million casino nearby. Other casinos, including Majestic Star Casino and Forest City Enterprises, also agreed to partially contribute to the arena's funding. On December 20, 2006, the Gaming Control Board awarded the license to Majestic Star Casino, who agreed to pay $7.5 million for the first 30 years, in addition to the Penguins paying $4 million per year.
I then thought to myself, "Why can't they do that here?" It occurred to me that none of the major Indian tribes that operate the large casinos in the area are actually in Sacramento County, but in the surrounding counties: Thunder Valley (Placer), Cache Creek (Yolo), and Red Hawk (El Dorado). Each of those counties is part of the newly formed Regional authority to fund the arena (Or not. Doesn't really matter). I don't know much about the dynamic between Indian Casinos and the counties that house them in regards to expansion and other issues, but I believe there are some things that the counties have control over in regards to where and how big the casinos can build and maybe over how many slots/tables they can have (though, that may entirely have to do with the State Licensing Board, and not at all with the counties. I can't really do good research on this right now).
Rampant speculation time: could ICON have advised Mayor Johnson early on that one huge way to fund an arena with zero direct public money is by tapping the casinos? If Johnson informed them that Sacramento itself has very little that it can do in regards to gambling money without going through a massively unwieldy process, but that there are a few sizable casinos with deep pockets in some of the surrounding counties, would that be why we began, right after Mayor Johnson's infamous Board of Governor's presentation, hearing so much about a "regional effort" in regards to the arena from Mayor Johnson, David Stern, and just about every other big player involved? Could we soon be hearing about some extremely generous contributions from a few deep-pocketed tribes that suddenly find their expansion plans on a fast-track to approval? Plans for a gorgeous new mega-casino just across the river from the railyards in Yolo County? Or, while we're speculating rampantly, a fully-funded new arena in Natomas and a giant new casino in the railyards?
I have no special insight or knowledge into this entire process, but I can't help but search for that giant missing piece that is the key to this entire puzzle that Kings fans, and right-minded Sacramento citizens, have been struggling with for years: how do we build an arena with a public-private partnership without using taxpayer money or asking voters to approve a new tax on themselves? I feel the "regional" aspect of this effort revealing itself slowly and gaining momentum, and I wonder where it's headed. If my speculation is somehow close to the end result, then I believe we may just find ourselves with that missing piece.