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Dry Creek Rancheria members vote on tribe officers

Dry Creek Rancheria elections, postponed more than three months because of questions over the legitimacy of two candidates, are set for Saturday.

At stake is the leadership of the Pomo tribe that runs River Rock, Sonoma County's first Indian casino, and whether longtime chairman Harvey Hopkins will be re-elected to a fifth two-year term.

The election comes at a critical juncture for the approximate 1,100-member Geyserville tribe, which will see its 10-year county monopoly on Las Vegas-style gambling end when another Indian casino next to Rohnert Park opens later this year.

The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria's casino will be bigger and located closer to urban areas. River Rock is bracing for a loss of customers and some of its workforce to the new gambling venue.

Hopkins on Thursday dismissed criticism that he and the current board have not done enough to prepare for the competition.

He said that under his leadership, the tribe has taken steps to reduce debt and create new revenue in the form of a wine-bottling venture and a new tobacco shop at the approximate 1200-slot casino.

The tribe shelved plans for a 267-room casino hotel expansion in 2008 after U.S. financial markets collapsed.

In 2011, River Rock refinanced $200 million in bond debt at a lower interest rate and has whittled away $24 million of the principal, Hopkins said.

"Those people talking against the chairman don't understand how hard I worked to get it done," he said of refinancing the debt he inherited as chairman.

Saturday's election follows on the heels of simmering disputes over tribal membership and the decision by the Dry Creek Board of Directors to boot two candidates out of the tribe, ending their bid for election.

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