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November 10, 2013

Indian casino to open in Calif. wine country

Features Las Vegas-style gambling with slots and video poker.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A new Native American casino in California’s wine country, opening Tuesday, features Las Vegas-style gambling with 3,000 slot and video poker machines, blackjack and other card games just 50 miles north of San Francisco.

The $800 million Graton Resort & Casino in Sonoma County is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

“We’ve built it for convenience, access and accessibility, and then we’ve added quality to a level the market has not seen before,” said Joe Hasson, the casino’s general manager.

California has more than 60 Native American casinos that produced about $6.9 billion in revenue in 2011, according to a recent report about the industry by economist Alan Meister.

Revenue grew by about 1.6 percent in 2011 after three years of declines, Casino City’s Indian Gaming Report showed.

Graton is 30 miles south of River Rock Casino, also in Sonoma County. There also are several large Native American casinos in the Sacramento region.

But there is still room for growth in California’s gambling market, particularly in populous coastal counties, said I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa and an expert in gambling law.

“We’re clearly not reaching the saturation point,” he said.

The less than 45-minute drive to Graton from the Golden Gate Bridge is among the casino’s advantages, giving it access to the entire Bay Area, Hasson said. Graton has flooded the region with ads, including television spots.

The 340,000-square-foot casino also will feature four full-service restaurants, nine casual dining options and three lounges. It will create full-time employment for more than 2,000 people. The casino will be managed by Las Vegas-based Station Casinos.

For the 1,300-member Graton Rancheria tribe, the casino comes after years of lobbying, negotiation and reviews.

The tribe of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo descent had its federal recognition restored by an act of Congress in 2000. It signed a gambling compact with the state last year and successfully fought off a lawsuit by opponents who argued that a road-widening project was not exempt from state requirements for an environmental study and would endanger the threatened California tiger salamander. Casino critics, more generally, raise concerns about gambling addictions and other social problems.

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