California tribal casinos continue on a roll, with a fourth straight year of gains, although a report released this week shows they have yet to reach their record revenue level prior to the recession, suggesting a still-challenging economy for a dozen smaller casinos on the North Coast.
The state’s 72 tribal casinos raked in $7.3 billion in 2014, up 4 percent over 2013, according to a report by Casino City, a clearinghouse for publications on the gambling industry.
The Graton Resort & Casino, which opened just over two years ago next to Rohnert Park as one of the biggest casinos in the state, appears to be especially well positioned to take advantage of the growing gambling market.
As one of the top five largest casinos in the state, it has bucked the trend for “smaller- to medium-sized properties that have opened (in greater numbers) nationwide,” said Alan Meister, the author of the Indian Gaming Industry Report and an economist with Nathan Associates Inc.
“Graton represents one of the bigger ones in recent years,” he said, adding that it is in a “pretty good market.”
The casino, owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and operated by Station Casinos of Las Vegas, does not disclose revenues, and the Casino City report did not provide a breakdown of revenue by tribe or casino. But Graton Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris on Tuesday said “things are going very, very well and we’re very happy.”
In a recent letter to a state legislator, he described Graton as “one of California’s largest and most successful casinos.”
The $800 million facility, which opened in November 2013, is adding a $175 million, 200-room hotel and 2,000-seat convention center, currently under construction and expected to open in the fall.
In addition to rooms starting at 500 square feet, there will be high-roller suites of approximately 2,700 square feet.
“We’ll see how we do,” Sarris said, adding that depending on an environmental review, the resort could add 100 more rooms.
Currently the weekends “are very good,” he said, with the 5,000-space parking lot becoming tight on Saturday and even Sunday nights. “We are always busy,” he said, even during the week.
He touted the 1,500 jobs with medical and other benefits that casino workers enjoy, with plans to create another 300 positions.
The casino also makes $8 million in annual payments to Rohnert Park, most of which goes to cover police services, according to City Manager Darrin Jenkins.
Sonoma County gets $5.4 million annually from Graton, largely to offset casino impacts, according to administrative analyst Sita Kuteira.
While Graton is growing, officials at the 14-year-old River Rock tribal casino near Geyserville said their revenues were cut in half after the bigger, more modern and centrally located casino opened in Rohnert Park.
An attorney for the Alexander Valley-based tribe that owns the casino, the Dry Creek Rancheria of Pomo Indians, said last year that the Graton casino off Highway 101 “intercepts traffic” between River Rock and the Bay Area.
River Rock in 2014 defaulted on more than $150 million in bond indebtedness and missed two separate $3.5 million payments to the county that were to cover casino impacts. The annual payment to the county was renegotiated to $750,000, and the tribe made a one-time lump payment to the county of $4.2 million in November.
California tribal casinos
2014 total revenue: $7.3 billion
2007 total revenue (record high): $7.8 billion
Number of Indian casinos: 72
Number of California tribes with casinos: 63
California’s share of Indian gaming nationwide: 25 percent of $28.9 billion in revenue across 28 states
SOURCE: Casino City 2014 report