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GEYSERVILLE, CA-River Rock Entertainment Authority has announced plans to replace its 62,000-sf starter casino near this Sonoma County community with a 600,000-sf, Tuscan themed facility. The estimated $300-million resort would include a large casino, 260 hotel rooms and suites, plus meeting rooms, a pool, spa and restaurants.

River Rock Entertainment Authority is a Tribal governmental instrument of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, a federally recognized self-governing Indian tribe. The Tribe has 947 enrolled members and a 75-acre reservation in Sonoma County. It’s starter casino, which opened in 2002, would close once the new resort opens.

In deference to the wineries that surround it, the new resort has been designed to resemble a Tuscan village, with courtyards, gardens, and buildings of varying heights. It would overlook the Alexander Valley from the Tribe’s Rancheria off Highway 128 between Healdsburg and Geyserville, 75 miles north of San Francisco, an area known for its wine producers. The new facility would employ an estimated 2,000 workers.

Sonoma County government, meanwhile, appears reluctant to acknowledge the casino’s existence. There is no mention of the casino on the “Points of Interest” section of its website, and a search of the entire site generates little other than county news releases about how it has been related to crimes in the area.

“We just haven’t gotten into it,” says Ben Stone, director of the county’s Economic Development Board, when asked about the existing casino and the plans for its expansion. Stone then redirected the inquiry to Bruce Goldstein in the county attorney’s office, saying he could provide “the county’s position on casinos.”

“It has been a very controversial issue,” Goldstein tells GlobeSt.com. “Generally the Board of Supervisors and our county has been opposed to casino development, but that’s really a federal policy issue; we do not have a lot of control on trust land and they do have a compact with the state that allows them to do gaming.”The county has concerns because it doesn’t see casinos as consistent with its general plan and it possible there could be several more in the offing because the county is home to five federally recognized tribes. Red Rock is currently the only casino in the county but another is proposed closer to San Francisco in the Rohnert Park area that would have significant traffic and other impacts, Goldstein says.”We’re trying to work with them so that the off-reservation impacts (such as increased crime and traffic) are fully mitigated, so the community doesn’t bear the cost of the tribes’ development,” Goldstein says. “There are a lot of studies out there and it’s not necessarily clear that casinos are an overall positive benefit when you take into account some of the social costs.”

A spokesperson for the casino did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Shawn Smyth, CEO of the River Rock Entertainment Authority, says in a prepared statement that construction will follow “a formal environmental review and receipt of necessary financing.”

The environmental review is in keeping with the Tribal-State compact and the Tribe’s governing statutes. The Tribe also plans to invest approximately $76 million in infrastructure improvements to support the new facilities, including an expanded wastewater treatment facility for which it recently obtained federal permission.

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