California: Sonoma County approves revised agreement with Graton Rancheria for casino expansion

The Board of Supervisors of Sonoma County, California, has given the green light to a revised agreement with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, ensuring the county receives an extra $5 million each year. The deal is tied to the tribe’s plans to expand its casino and hotel near Rohnert Park and aims to streamline the previous agreement while outlining $14.5 million in annual payments to offset the impacts on public services provided by the county.

Supervisor David Rabbitt emphasized the importance of maintaining a positive relationship between the tribe and the community. As per The Press Democrat, he stated: “We cannot dictate what tribes do on their land, (as) a sovereign nation. But we can have a relationship to make sure, within the greater community, any impact is properly mitigated — seen here in this agreement going forward.”

The Graton Resort and Casino, the largest in the Bay Area, opened in 2013. The tribe’s expansion plans and subsequent renegotiation of its compact with the state earlier this year triggered the need to update the county’s agreement.

The expansion plans for the Graton Resort and Casino are substantial and groundbreaking work is scheduled to commence later this month. The project involves doubling the size of the existing gaming floor by adding up to 3,000 slot machines, constructing over 200 hotel rooms, and introducing a large performance theater and rooftop restaurant.

Under the revised agreement, the tribe will increase its annual payments to the county from $9 million to about $14.5 million, with adjustments based on the consumer price index. These payments are intended to meet the state requirement for Graton Rancheria to pay 2% of net winnings to the county.

The funds will be allocated to cover various areas, including the casino’s impact on public safety, health, and human services, traffic, affordable housing, greenhouse gas emissions, fire services, tourism, transportation, and groundwater. Sita Kuteira, deputy Sonoma County counsel, explained that the updated agreement is simpler compared to its 2019 predecessor.

Additionally, the tribe has committed to making annual “community benefit” payments for Sonoma County Regional Parks, Tolay Lake Regional Park, and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. These payments will begin at $3 million annually and increase incrementally to $7 million as the project progresses through different phases.

The previous agreement outlined “community benefit” payments of up to $25 million via the Graton Mitigation Fund. However, the new agreement eliminates this fund, allowing the tribe to make direct payments to the county and Rohnert Park.

The casino is situated on a 254-acre reservation just outside Rohnert Park and is one of Sonoma County’s largest private employers, currently providing employment for over 2,000 individuals.

The new payments will only come into effect once approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, a process that could take up to four months. In the meantime, the county will continue to receive payments through the Graton Mitigation Fund, as stipulated in the previous agreement.

Graton Rancheria’s casino is one of Sonoma County’s two tribal gaming establishments, with River Rock Casino being the county’s first tribal casino, which opened in 2002 near Geyserville.