Graton casino expansion; A safe bet for local community

Two and a half years after the widely debated opening of Graton Casino (and soon to be resort), it looks as though opponents of the development will have to eat their words. This monumental, $800 million project brought a Las Vegas-style casino to the humble, family-friendly town of Rohnert Park in 2013, amid a decade-long protest from residents.

Some members of the community felt this development would create a traffic nightmare — which it did, briefly, upon its grand opening — and others feared the dreaded noise and light pollution would disturb this once peaceful area.

As it turns out, these assumptions were incorrect, according to residents and city officials. Graton Casino — the newest addition to the 13 other Indian gaming facilities within Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties — has had surprisingly little negative impact. Yes, on opening day there were lines of cars gridlocked for hours, as thousands from all over the Bay Area flocked to take in this spectacle. However, after the grand opening madness wore off, traffic on Highway 101 did return to normal, and the new wave of crime that was thought to come as a result of bringing this gambler’s paradise to the city never materialized.

Conversely, the casino has had some positive effects on the community, bringing with it 2,000 new jobs for its casino workers alone, not to mention the construction jobs created, and paying the city $13 million to offset the costs of increased law enforcement, among other public services. The casino has not had much impact at all on surrounding businesses, negative or positive. Indian gaming means big money for California and the 28 other states that operate the nearly 500 Indian gaming venues across the country. After five straight years of growth, the Indian gaming industry in the United States has reached a record high. According to the National Indian Gaming Industry’s 2016 Annual Report, gaming revenue generated $28 billion last year, and California controls about 25 percent of that revenue.

So it seems only natural that Rohnert Park city officials would want to tap into this veritable gold mine. But why were some residents so against it? Some might speculateSonoma County is filled with sleepy farm towns that don’t have a need for a gaming venue of this magnitude, and smaller casinos were plenty sufficient. Others feltthis “eye sore” would not fit into its surroundings, located in the middle of wine country. Whether you love Graton or hate it, locals are going to have to learn to live with it, because the casino recently broke ground on its new resort, set to open this fall. The $175 million expansion will include a six-story, 200-room hotel, and 200,000 square-foot convention center, as well as an upscale spa and outdoor pool.

During this phase of the resort’s development, 1,000 construction jobs will be created and when finished, the hotel will employ an additional 150 staff members. Sonoma County doesn’tcurrently have a convention center, and I suspect this new development will only bring more business, tourism and money to the area. Only time will tell how this new resort and expansion will affect the community, but rest assured, the city of Rohnert Park claims to have your best interests at heart. According to City Councilman Jake Mackenzie, “The tribe has honored its agreement, and has been a good neighbor.”