Gridlocked traffic and beeping horns marked the opening of the Graton Casino last Tuesday, with crowds exceeding 5,000 individuals packing the 3,000 slot machines and 144 table games.
The California Highway Patrol as well as police from Rohnert Park, Petaluma, and Santa Rosa were dispatched to deal with the increased traffic in the Rohnert Park area.
By 11 a.m., two hours after the casino opened their doors to the public, an estimated 5,000 plus individuals had packed the state of the art casino to the point of turning people away and shutting their doors to prevent more people from entering. With over 5,700 parking spaces filled almost all day long, traffic flooded into the surrounding area and even into Rohnert Park.
“We’ve known about and have been planning for the opening for six months now,” said Sergeant Aaron Johnson of the Rohnert Park Police. “We had five Rohnert Park Police officers and five CHP officers.” Overall, Johnson believed that the traffic control went well and according to plan, though they did have to close Golf Course West a few times during the day due to heavy traffic concerns.
“The worst of the traffic was mostly contained to the northwest portion of the city,” said Johnson. Would-be-gamblers began lining up outside of the casino as early as 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
California Highway Patrol’s Twitter rang with multiple posts warning of incoming motorists and the expanding traffic concerns emanating from the Graton Casino area. “Graton Casino is busy, expect delays. Use alternate routes.” “Officers primarily placed signage and directed traffic when needed,” said Johnson. “Traffic got heavy around 9:30 a.m. and remained heavy till around 4 p.m. where it calmed down. It then picked back up from 8 p.m. ‘til 11 p.m.” With the police out in force Tuesday there were no accidents or road rage incidents reported due to traffic caused by the casino opening.
“People were driving through the drive-through asking us where the casino was,” said Kenny Sandoval, a third year student and employee of the Popeye’s Chicken across the freeway from the new casino. “Strangely, business has actually gone down over this past week. Usually we get a car every two to five minutes an hour or two before closing at 10 p.m. but since the opening we get a car every 25 to 30 minutes an hour before closing.”
Other businesses, however, seemed to overflow with unexpected customers streaming from the casino.
“The day the casino opened we were really busy, I wasn’t expecting all these people to come out for it,” said Sheri’s employee Amanda Blanc. “We’re really excited for all the new business, I hope it continues to thrive.”
As traffic returns to normal, Johnson warned that we might see another increase of traffic over the weekend due to the holiday. Johnson then reassured that the Rohnert Park police department planned for the weekend and would be ready for more heavy traffic in the area.
Johnny Moffitt, a Sonoma State student, attempted to go check out the new casino Saturday night at 10:30 p.m. and said, “I never made it in. There was a two hour line just to get in.” When asked if he would go back he said, “Yeah maybe Sunday to watch the game at their bar. Only if there isn’t some crazy line.” However, other students reported no lines and less crowds throughout the weeknights after the opening.
“It has been a great first 12 hours here at Graton Resort & Casino! While we have had to pace the number of people through the door on occasion today to ensure the comfort of guest already inside, we’re excited to continue creating great guest experiences 24/7/365!” read the Graton Casino’s Facebook page after the grand opening. It remains to be seen if this was a one-time occurrence associated with the grand opening or if it will become a weekly trend for Sonoma County residents.