The Graton Rancheria was federally recognized as an Indian tribe
on December 27, 2000, by an Act of Congress. The Tribe has been
continuously pursuing development of a casino for the ensuing
11½ years, but casino opponents have opposed and attacked
the project with the ferocity and tenacity of a dog with a bone.
This opposition has culminated in new litigation challenging the
State of California's ratification of a Class III Gaming
Compact with Graton.
The tribal path has been littered with all sorts of problems,
some of which may have been of its own making, but it appeared that
the final obstacles had been overcome as of May 7, 2012, when the
California state legislature ratified the Compact which was
negotiated by Governor Jerry Brown. This ostensibly was the final
step prior to commencement of casino construction since the
proposed casino site was accepted into trust for the Tribe in
Having sidestepped and beaten down the many avenues of attack on
its project over the years – including having to abandon
two previous sites before settling on the current location
– the Graton Tribe had every reason to believe that its
long fight was virtually over. Its 254-acre site adjacent to U.S.
101 at Rohnert Park, California, was in trust, its Gaming Compact
was ratified and pending before the Secretary of the Interior for
approval, and its business partner Station Casinos was firmly
committed to completing the project and opening for gaming
operations within a reasonable period of time.
However, the opponents have not gone away. Indeed, on May 21,
they filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court challenging
the Compact's legality under state law and seeking to
permanently enjoin the Governor and unnamed state officials from
taking any actions implementing the Compact. The opponents are
organized as "Stop the Casino 101 Coalition" and have
been led since the association's founding in 2003 by Rohnert
Park resident Pastor Chip Worthington. Worthington has proven to be
tenacious in his opposition to any Graton casino and particularly
aggressive in fighting a casino located in or near Rohnert Park.
(Disclosure: Pastor Worthington contacted this writer
several years ago with a preliminary and unsuccessful inquiry about
assisting his effort.)
The new litigation seems well-crafted and certainly has to be
dealt with in some manner by tribal attorneys. However, any delay
it may create could be short-lived in light of the fact that the
critical federal approvals are in hand, with the likely exception
of an approved Tribal Gaming Ordinance ("TGO"). (As of
this writing, the National Indian Gaming Commission website does
not report any approval of a Graton TGO.)
The next logical step for the City of Rohnert Park would be to
accept the reality of a Graton casino and begin developing a
proposed agreement for the provision of municipal services that
would serve the interests of the Tribe and surrounding
As for the Graton Rancheria, there truly is the proverbial
"light at the end of the tunnel" once the new litigation
is resolved, and that could be sooner rather than later. What the
tribe surely thought would be a relatively uncomplicated
development once it secured Congressional recognition has proven
anything but uncomplicated.
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