THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
April 12, 2022, 2:54PM
Updated 1 hour ago
The Bay Area’s largest casino could grow substantially with a planned expansion of the gaming floor and addition of a second hotel tower.
Graton Resort and Casino is proposing to expand the casino floor by about 144,000 square feet. A five-story, 221-room hotel tower also is proposed.
The $825 million casino opened in 2013 on a 254-acre property on Rohnert Park’s western outskirts. A 200-room hotel, convention space and ballroom opened in 2016.
The expansion appears to be the subject of an environmental assessment, according to a notice submitted to Rohnert Park by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the casino owner.
The notice comes as the Koi Nation, a Pomo tribe, seeks to develop a competing gaming resort outside Windsor, a move opposed by the owner, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and four other Sonoma County tribes, as well as the county Board of Supervisors.
Casino officials and officials with Graton Rancheria declined to comment on the expansion. Tribal officials and casino managers had as far back as 2017 that there were plans to double hotel capacity. An 850-page environmental study examined potential impacts on traffic, groundwater and other resources.
Residents at the time raised concerns that the expansion would increase traffic and crime and deplete the area’s water supply.
The current proposal is larger in scope.
New plans call for more gaming space at the front of the existing facility, which weren’t included in the previous proposal and would increase the casino’s 320,000-square-foot footprint by more than 50%.
The hotel wing, which will be built adjacent to the existing hotel, will have more rooms and include a rooftop restaurant and expanded swimming pool.
A 3,500-seat theater on the north side of the property and a new parking garage west of the casino are in the works.
The tribe plans to add a water tank to meet water needs.
The environmental study will examine potential effects of the expansion on the surrounding areas.
The study will look at whether the project will impact air quality and water resources. It also will look at whether the expansion will impact noise, traffic and public services.
“I look forward to having a discussion with tribal members about what they want to do and how they want to do it and have the county act accordingly,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, who represents the western half of Rohnert Park that includes the casino.
Rabbitt said he knew, pre-pandemic, that Graton planned to expand the casino but did not know the specifics, or when the expansion would be announced.
The county does not have much of a direct role in overseeing the expansion plans because the casino sits on tribal land, which is under purview of the federal government not the county. However, Rabbitt said the county can review the plans and any impact studies, and offer input.
“From the county’s perspective obviously it’s sovereign land and they have the right to do what they’re doing,” Rabbitt said. “We certainly wish them well. We want to have a conversation about off-site impacts, and environmental (impacts).”
Concerns about the impact to traffic, water usage and demands on local emergency response teams dominated local discussion ahead of the casino resort’s opening in 2013.
People can weigh in on potential impacts to non-reservation land during a public comment period that runs through May 4.
Rohnert Park City Manager Darrin Jenkins said the city hasn’t had any conversations with tribal or casino officials and learned about the expansion from the notice submitted to the city.
It is unclear what the expansion plans mean for the existing revenue sharing and mitigation agreements struck with local governments.
The tribe has an agreement to pay a total of $251 million over 20 years to Rohnert Park for public safety, education and other community services.
Separately, the tribe agreed to pay Sonoma County about $9 million a year for 20 years to address negative impacts of the casino.
The city is evaluating the expansion proposal, Jenkins said.
“We’re just at the beginning of the process,” he said. “We’re interested in seeing their analysis and we’ll make a determination on future actions when we have that analysis.”
You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.