River Rock, Sonoma County's first tribal casino, has seen its revenues plummet since the opening of the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, forcing a significant reduction in employees along with cuts in payments and benefits to its tribal members.
The competition from Sonoma County's newest casino appears to be every bit as tough as River Rock and its owners, the Dry Creek Rancheria tribe, anticipated prior to Graton's debut in November.
Dry Creek Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins acknowledged the 12-year-old casino has seen more than the 30 percent drop in revenue that was anticipated prior to Graton's opening.
Although he declined to be more specific, other tribal officials indicated the situation was dire.
"Graton is knocking the crap out of us. Forty to 45 percent of our revenue is gone," one source with knowledge of the casino's finances said last week.
The last full year River Rock's casino revenue was publicly reported was in 2010, when it was $124 million.
Hopkins said approximately 100 employees have left River Rock — which once had more than 600 workers — to go to work at the bigger, glitzier Graton casino. "We're still looking at the possibility of not rehiring or filling those vacancies," he said Monday.
And the Dry Creek tribal government, which once had nearly 60 employees, is being reduced "by 70 percent," according to Hopkins.
"We've reduced staff down to a half-dozen people, maybe a little bit more," he said of the tribal employees who were in public works, information technology, human resources and finance.
Tribal members and families also are seeing a hit to their income.
Per capita payments, approximately $600 a month from casino profits that the tribe pays to its 640 members over the age of 18, are being reduced in half, to $300 a month.
But tribal members can apply for as much as $200 monthly in food and gas allowances to help offset the cut in their monthly "per cap."
Analysts predicted last year there would be a hit to River Rock, which opened in 2002, and even to other smaller Indian casinos in Mendocino and Lake counties as a result of Graton attracting some of their customers.
"It was somewhat predictable that Graton would have a significant effect on the local market, particularly because they dedicated an enormous amount of resources to their casino, and the other casinos in the general vicinity don't have the same resources or appealing location," said Doug Elmets, who represents five tribes, including those that operate Thunder Valley and Jackson Rancheria casinos closer to Sacramento.
He said the Graton casino, which is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and managed by Station Casinos of Las Vegas, is able to market and advertise in a way that neighboring casinos can't match.
"They are applying shock and awe in that marketing," Elmets said.
Greg Sarris, chairman of the Graton Rancheria, did not immediately return a call from a reporter Tuesday afternoon.
The $800 million, 340,000-square-foot Graton casino and resort, with its 3,000 slot machines and 200 table games, dwarfs River Rock's 61,000-square-foot facility, with 1,200 slots and 20 tables.
The Graton casino, closer to the heart of Sonoma County, Highway 101 and the Bay Area population center, is designed to handle big crowds with 5,700 parking spots.
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