The Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians have promised not to build a casino in Petaluma, Calif. until at least 2032.
The deal, thrashed out with casino-averse Sonoma County officials, was done after the county agreed to waive its annual $750,000 payment from the tribe for 2020 and 2021.
The tribe has a revenue-share deal with the county for its River Rock Casino on its reservation near Geyserville, 45 miles north of Petaluma. But the casino was closed for two and a half months at the beginning of the pandemic, leading to considerable revenue loss.
The tribe’s ownership of 300 acres of land just south of Petaluma has long made residents jumpy. It has the right to establish a second casino resort in Sonoma County, the heart of California’s wine country, per an agreement with the state.
In 2005, it applied to the federal government have the land taken into trust for gaming purposes. It has since suspended the application. But some locals remain uneasy that a casino remains a long-term goal.
The River Rock has suffered since the 2013 opening of the Graton Casino Resort in Rohnert Park, which was also fiercely opposed by Sonoma County officials and local residents.
Owned by the Federated Band of Graton Rancheria and operated by Boyd Gaming, it’s the biggest casino in northern California, and cuts footfall to the River Rock from the Bay Area.
A Petaluma casino would allow the Dry Creek Pomo to leapfrog the Graton Casino and to potentially reconnect with that traffic.
The first deal between the Dry Creek Pomo and Sonoma County officials to stave off a casino came in 2006, shortly after Petaluma residents voted by an eighty percent majority to oppose the tribe’s plan.
The tribe and the county signed a memorandum of understanding that resolved several legal disputes related to the River Rock, while nixing a casino in Petaluma until 2016.
‘No Plans for Petaluma Casino’
In 2015, a new agreement extended the prohibition to 2025. The River Rock was suffering the impact from the Graton resort and the tribe was only too happy to sign a deal that reduced its payments to the county from $3.5 million per year to a minimum of $750,000. The 2015 deal would save the tribe tens of millions over the ensuing decade.
The tribe’s chairman Chris Wright, who does not typically speak to the press, said in 2015 there were no plans for a casino on the Petaluma plot. Among other things, it would be too difficult to get approval, he explained.
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