|Heavy casino traffic a sure bet
Thousands from all over flock to $800 million gambling venue in RP
The locals who were forced to endure the massive traffic congestion caused by the opening of the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park are probably hoping the novelty of the new $800 million, 340,000 square foot gambling venue wears off quickly.
From mid-morning to late in the afternoon on Nov. 5, traffic around the Highway 101 exit at Golf Course West slowed to a crawl and the casino parking lot filled up early, causing several potential gamblers to abandon their plans to attend the casino opening.
It is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and managed by Las Vegas-based operator Station Casinos. It will be open all day every day.
There were some who parked in the Home Depot parking lot and made the short walk to the casino.
Some who actually made it into the Graton parking lot were forced to wait hours to enter because the casino had reached full capacity and closed its doors.
There were others who actually trekked an additional 30 minutes north to the River Rock casino in Geyserville, while others traveled even further north to the casino in Hopland.
Both River Rock and the Hopland casino reported increases of 40 and 20 percent, respectively. The spillover to River Rock was so great it also had to close its doors because it reached maximum capacity as well.
One of the problems, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Kimberly Lemons was tour buses bringing in patrons to the casino.
“The casino and law enforcement was not expecting the number of buses coming,” Lemons said. “The casino did not invite any bus service and provided no bus services, and that excess caused the backup.”
Before the casino opened, law enforcement from the Rohnert Park Dept. of Public Safety and the CHP had expected more than 10,000 additional cars to be on the local roadways on Nov. 5. Early Wednesday morning, traffic was much calmer than it was on Tuesday, but as the day wore on, traffic increased.
Weekend traffic is likely to be heavy because many from other parts of the Bay Area will make their initial visits to the Graton casino.
“We don’t know what to expect, but we’re prepared for the worst,” Lemons said.
In order to reduce the impact of the opening on the area north of Wilfred Avenue, the county has installed temporary signs and barriers at Labath, Langner, Whistler and Primrose avenues, closing access at Wilfred. In addition, signs have been posted notifying motorists of “No casino access” on Millbrae Avenue at Dowdell and Stony Point, on Scenic Avenue at Stony Point, and at each of the four local intersections at Millbrae Avenue. California Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s deputies on Nov. 5 enforced the restrictions and patrolled the area to enforce traffic laws and regulations.
The Graton casino opened an hour earlier than scheduled because of the long lines outside the doors.
The inside of the casino is as eye pleasing as advertised, and the aromas coming from the restaurants were enough to make the mouth water. Those looking to play the slots were hard pressed to find one available, and anyone hoping to get on a card table were forced to wait almost as long to play as those waiting to get inside the casino.
Getting lost or losing someone inside the facility featuring more than 3,000 slot machines and 144 blackjack, poker or baccarat tables is very easy. And at times, those workers on the floor were unsure of where to direct people who had questions.
Who knows what impact the casino will continue to have on local traffic or how much of a boost or hindrance it is to local, family-owned businesses. One thing is for certain, those who are compulsive gamblers – or think they are – need to avoid this place like the plague. The temptation to test a new gambling facility is one that can bring devastating consequences.