By Stephanie Martin
Update, 4:15 p.m.: Those who predicted the new Graton Resort & Casino would be wildly popular when it opened were right. So were those who feared that casino traffic would cause gridlock on roads leading to the complex.
How bad was the traffic when the casino opened this morning? Check out this tweet from the city of Rohnert Park:
The Graton Casino is filled to capacity at this time! Traffic through Rohnert Park and on surface streets in the area is extremely congested
— City of Rohnert Park (@RPTrafficUpdate) November 5, 2013
Or this one, from Santa Rosa Press Democrat reporter Brett Wilkinson:
Overflow crowd at casino opening in Rohnert Park likened to “dumbest zombie movie you’ve ever seen” by CHP spokesman http://t.co/KTPtKhXqb5
— Brett Wilkison (@BrettWilkison) November 5, 2013
What’s all the fuss about? Here’s our original post:
It’s game on for Northern California’s largest tribal casino.
The $800 million Graton Resort & Casino, just outside Rohnert Park in southern Sonoma County, officially opens its doors at 10 a.m. The 24/7 operation includes 3,000 slot and video poker machines, 144 gaming tables, a food court and four full-service restaurants.
“It’s huge and it’s gorgeous,” said Vera Blanquie, membership representative at the Rohnert Park Chamber of Commerce. She says she and her colleagues received a private tour of the complex about two months ago.
“Marble floor, huge chandeliers – we kind of felt like we were in Las Vegas,” she laughed.
The casino, owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, faced strong opposition from the surrounding community when planning began 10 years ago, and a group of Sonoma County residents continues to wage a legal battle to shut it down. Opponents, and even some supporters, say an influx of new visitors to the region will likely mean more crime, pollution and traffic congestion, not to mention competition for local businesses.
On the eve of the grand opening, however, many in Rohnert Park expressed optimism.
“We’re really excited about having them as a neighbor,” said Danny Kotzin, manager of the In-N-Out Burger near the casino’s main entrance. Kotzin says he’s spent the past several months preparing for the casino opening by hiring extra restaurant staff and training them to handle larger crowds.
“I think they’re going to do a lot for the community as far as opening up jobs for everybody,” he added.
Public safety officials say they expect the casino to eventually draw between 8,000 and 10,000 people a day, but they say the first few days and weeks could draw much more traffic. California Highway Patrol spokesman Jonathan Sloat advises staying off northbound U.S. 101 in Sonoma, at least for the next few days.
“Know your alternate routes,” Sloat cautioned. “You’d be amazed at how many people know one way to get someplace and they’ve lived here their whole life.”