Graton Casino Unveils Expansion as Sonoma County Competitor Seeks Entry

By | April 13, 2022

Graton Resort & Casino has proposed a major expansion of its tribal gaming destination in Rohnert Park, Ca.

Graton Resort & Casino California tribe gaming
A busy Graton Resort & Casino is seen in 2013. The tribal casino in California’s Sonoma County is planning to greatly expand the resort’s footprint. (Image: Graton Resort & Casino)

The Sonoma County tribe recently disclosed its development plans through a tribal environmental impact report. The details include expanding the casino floor by approximately 144,000 square feet, adding a new five-story, 221-room hotel wing with a rooftop restaurant and resort-style pool, and constructing a five-level parking garage. The overhaul additionally includes a 3,500-seat theater.

Graton Resort & Casino opened in 2013 at a cost of $825 million. The current casino floor spans 320,000 square feet and comes with more than 3,000 slot machines and 120 live dealer table games. The resort features numerous restaurants and bars, plus an on-site 200-room hotel with a spa, pool, and 20,000 square feet of meeting space.

Graton Resort & Casino sits on the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria’s 255-acre sovereign reservation. Gaming operations are managed by Las Vegas-based Station Casinos.

New Tribe Seeks Sonoma Casino

Graton Resort & Casino is one of two tribal casino resorts in California’s Sonoma County. The other is the Dry Creek Rancheria’s River Rock Casino, which opened in 2002.

The famed wine country resorts are facing potential new competition. The Koi Nation of Northern California has proposed building a $600 million casino resort along Shiloh Rd. in Larkfield-Wikiup. The targeted site, which is currently a vineyard and private residence, is between River Rock to the north and Graton to the south.

The Koi Nation only received federal recognition in 2019. The small tribe is seeking to establish sovereign territory in Sonoma County. But the neighboring tribes say the Koi people have no ancestral linkage to the region.

Graton tribal officials last fall accused the Koi tribe of “reservation shopping.” The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors earlier this month unanimously opposed the Koi casino plan at 222 E. Shiloh Rd. The local officials concluded that the Koi Nation is not a Sonoma County tribe.

The US federal government, however, will make the ultimate determination as to whether the Koi people indeed trace their roots back to the region. If the US Department of the Interior establishes historical ties between Sonoma and Koi ancestors, the 68-acres that the tribe has agreed to purchase could be deemed sovereign land.

That would allow the Koi tribe to proceed with the $600 million undertaking. The tribe is being bankrolled and supported by the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Expansion Timing

Speaking with The Press Democrat, Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt explained that the Graton expansion plans were in the works long before the Koi Nation brought forward its casino ambitions. The Graton tribe was working on its expansion plans prior to the pandemic, Rabbitt explained.

Much stands in the way of the Koi’s casino hopes. The tribe needs federal approval, and the land to be taken into the federal trust. If that happens, the tribe would need to enter into a Class III gaming compact with the state to allow the Koi casino to offer Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games.

The odds of the Graton expansion coming to fruition are much better, as the project is on sovereign land at a casino already with a Class III gaming compact.

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