The Indian tribe that owns River Rock Casino wants to change an agreement with Sonoma County that covers liquor service, road access and $75 million in mitigation fees.
While the county appears to favor most of the proposed changes, a key county leader said Wednesday he's against any expansion of liquor service at the Alexander Valley casino.
"That would be a non-starter for me," said Mike McGuire, the county supervisor who represents Alexander Valley. "Any expansion of liquor service would not be consistent with the agreement."
The Dry Creek Pomo tribe also wants to postpone some mitigation payments and the construction of an emergency access road to the casino. Supervisors will consider those changes next Tuesday.
River Rock chief executive David Fendrick has told investment analysts the casino wants to open additional bars and serve alcohol on the gaming floor starting later this year.
But under a 2008 agreement with the county, the tribe can't serve liquor on the casino floor. Guests may purchase drinks at a nearby restaurant or bar and bring them to the casino, however.
The agreement also limits liquor sales to wine and beer between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays and halts sales at midnight except for Friday and Saturday nights and the nights before holidays.
The county pushed for the alcohol limits after the tribe applied for a state liquor license for the casino. County leaders and Alexander Valley neighbors said they were worried that too much drinking would lead to accidents on Highway 128, the twisting, two-lane road that serves the area.
But opponents later acknowledged that River Rock was entitled to a liquor license under state law. The county dropped its opposition after reaching the compromise with the tribe.
The deal allows for renegotiation of the liquor rules three years after its adoption. The three-year anniversary was in March.
On Tuesday, Fendrick told investment analysts that additional liquor service is part of River Rock's growth plan.
"We remain focused on making River Rock Casino more comfortable and entertaining for our guests," he said during a conference call.
River Rock provides food and drinks at a loss "as an opportunity to build customer loyalty rather than as a source of income," the casino said in a filing with securities regulators last week.
McGuire said the tribe hasn't approached the county yet about revising the liquor rules.
Under the 2008 agreement, the tribe also agreed to pay the county $75 million over 12 years to offset the county's costs of public services, including law enforcement, fire protection and road maintenance.
The tribe already has paid $10.3 million and will pay another $3.5 million next month.
But payments were supposed to escalate with the tribe's construction of a permanent casino, hotel, spa, restaurants, shops and other facilities on its 75-acre reservation near Geyserville. That project has been shelved because of the economic downturn, and the tribe now is asking for the payment schedule to be changed, McGuire said.
The proposed new schedule calls for the tribe to pay $3.5 million each June until 2020.
"What we are doing is providing flexibility," McGuire said. The tribe still is required to pay the full $75 million, he said.
The 2008 agreement also calls for the tribe to build an emergency access road by the end of this year, weather permitting. The road is needed as a backup because there's only one road now to the hillside casino, McGuire said.
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