The Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria have been fighting for over a decade to be permitted to open an urban casino north of San Francisco, and the group finally received federal approval to move forward with its plan.
Tracie Stevens, chairwoman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, send a letter to the tribe and to Stations Casino informing them of approval for their Class II management contract. As a result, the tribe is permitted to open a gaming facility on its land in Rohnert Park. Rohnert Park is located 50 miles north of San Francisco and is home to 41,000 people.
Despite the tribe’s sigh of relief that they have finally been granted approval to develop their casino, local anti-casino groups are already saying they will attempt to block the facility in court.
The tribe was approved to operate Class II machines, which are machines that use internal math that follows the rules of bingo. These types of machines are typically not as desired by players and do not compete well with Class III casinos. Class III machines are traditional slot machines. However, due to the lack of any nearby Class III casinos, Graton’s Class II casino could end up being very successful. Although the casino will likely see success even with only Class II machines, it is believed that the tribe is still attempting to obtain permission to open a Class III casino.
“What is not clear from the letter is whether that’s their plan now, if they’ve going to pursue Class II and when,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who represents the area and is opposed to opening an urban casino. He also said that he would continue to try and prevent the development of any casino in the area.
Marilee Montgomery, a member of the group Stop the Casino 101, said that her group was planning to sue on two grounds; the first suit will be to challenge the land trust application, and the second one will challenge the ability of the tribe to build on this particular piece of land. The group believes that the area is within range of the genetically distinct Sonoma County population of the California Tiger Salamander, and therefore the land should be a protected habitat.
Whether or not the tribe faces more legal hurdles before the project can get under way, they will have to deal with some geographical complications before construction of the casino can begin.
“They could go put up a metal building and put some gravel down and hope it doesn’t rain too much this winter,” said Montgomery. “That land gets standing water on it. It has engineered drainage ditches all over. This is marshland.”