New Gaming Compact Doubles Slot Machines At Graton Casino

Written By Rashid Mohamed on March 16, 2023
Northern California Casino Graton New Compact

The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria who own and operate the Graton Resort and Casino have penned a new compact with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.

Under the new deal, the Northern California casino could see its slot machine numbers double, an expansion move first announced in April of last year. Once in effect, the new agreement between the Indian tribe and the state will supersede the previous compact signed in 2012.

What are the expansion plans?

Right now, the Bay Area’s largest gaming destination has 3,000 slot machines – it hopes to up that number to 6,000. The expansion plans announced last year include extending its gaming floor and constructing a second hotel tower outside Rohnert Park.

Rohnert Park’s assistant city manager, Don Schwartz admits not having had the chance to fully study the new compact. But he has full confidence in it based on the strong working relationship the city has with the tribe.

“They have been very good neighbors,” Schwarz said. “And we have every reason to look forward to that continuing.” Schwarz referred to the considerable funding Graton Rancheria had provided for Rohnert Park schools and services.

And even though Rohnert Park’s involvement in the negotiations of gaming pacts remains limited, Schwartz said the city was by no means surprised by the new agreement.

These moves should solidify the resort’s dominance in California’s $8 billion annual tribal gaming industry.

Should the expansion plans move forward, it would position the Graton Resort in second place in terms of slot machine numbers. It would only be behind the Yaamava’ Resort and Casino in Highland, which boasts more than 7,000.

Details of the new tribal compact

A caveat of the new deal is that the Graton Rancheria will pay more money in the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund, an endowment that primarily benefits non-gaming tribes, according to a news release from the tribe.

Each quarter, the tribe pays $2 million into the fund. That would climb to $2.75 million if the tribe took full advantage of its slot machine cap. Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, said in the release:

“We are happy to improve our compact with the State of California and continue to provide needed community funds for the City of Rohnert Park, Sonoma County, and our state.”

Sarris further added that the compact was a path forward to allow the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria to develop into a self-sustaining sovereign nation. It also helps the tribe foster its mission of “social justice and environmental stewardship.”

The tribe pays Rohnert Park and Sonoma County millions of dollars each year to offset impacts on public services. However, it appears that neither local government played a significant role in the negotiations.

According to Jennifer Klein, Sonoma County’s chief deputy county counsel, under the new compact, Rohnert Park would receive 2% of net wins which is the total amount gambled on slot machines minus total payouts.

Sonoma County, however, was unsure of what to expect monetarily from the new deal given that the tribe’s net revenue had not yet been established.

Klein also pointed out in an email that the compact would not go into effect until it had been approved by the US Secretary of the Interior.

Committee will help oversee new compact requirements

The city established an ad hoc committee of the Rohnert Park City Council to facilitate collaboration with the tribe. The committee will be led by Mayor Samantha Rodriguez and Council member Jackie Elward.

As the new compact moves forward, the county will continue to keep tabs on imports issues such as:

  1. Allowing the county access to the gaming facility for public health inspections
  2. Monitoring state liquor requirements
  3. Making sure adequate fire suppression services are available
  4. Provisions governing payments to non-gaming and limited gaming tribes

Another topic important to the county which hadn’t been mentioned in the new deal is mitigating environmental impacts. That’s something county officials will be observing closely along with current agreements between the tribe and the county, Klein said.

Second Northern California casino also updated their tribal compact

Sonoma County has two tribal casinos. Besides the one in Graton, there’s also River Rock Casino in Geyserville. Upon its opening in 2002, River Rock became the county’s first tribal gaming operation.

The Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians own River Rock Casino. And last month they welcomed the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a new agreement. The new compact will bring about a resort-style destination on its existing gaming site, with up to 1,500 slots, a 300-room hotel, and other features.

With all these developments taking place, another Pomo tribe called the Koi Nation has put a bid in to develop a gaming resort outside of Windsor. This proposal, however, is getting a lot of pushback from the Board of Supervisors and five Sonoma County-based tribes.

About Graton Resort and Casino

Graton Resort and Casino opened in 2013 on the tribe’s 254-acre reservation. It is on the outskirts of Rohnert Park off Wilfred Avenue. Upon opening, the $825 million Northern California casino featured:

  • 3,000 slot machines
  • 144 blackjack
  • Poker and baccarat tables
  • Several restaurants that stayed open 24/7

Three years later in 2016, the tribe added a 200-room hotel, convention space, and ballroom.

The resort has a workforce of more than 2,000 people, making it one of Sonoma County’s largest private employers. That number is likely to surge once the expansions materialize.

Photo by Eric Risberg, File / AP Photo / illustrated by PlayCA
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Rashid Mohamed

Rashid Mohamed is an international journalist with a special interest in sports writing. He is a Poli-Sci graduate of Ohio University and holds an A.A.S in Journalism. He has worked in a number of countries and has extensive experience in the United Nations as well as other regional, national, and international organizations. Rashid lives and writes out of Denver, Colorado.

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