Crowds of thousands are flocking to the brand-new Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park today, causing gridlock on nearby roadways.
The casino was slated to open at 10 a.m. but crowds started gathering several hours earlier than that, and staff began letting people in at 9 a.m., casino spokeswoman Lori Nelson said.
"The crowds came in with smiles on their faces and were rushing to see the sights," Nelson said. "I was overwhelmed by how many people turned out on opening morning."
The $820 million, 340,000-square-foot casino contains 3,000 slot and video poker machines, 144 blackjack tables and a poker room, among other features.
Nelson said about 20 buses full of visitors showed up unannounced this morning.
"We did not organize those bus tours, it appears that outside companies organized those and brought them up," she said.
The crowds were so big that the casino began holding people back at the entrances, letting in just a few people at a time. An employee answering the phone at the casino said new people were being let in as other visitors left.
"It's still going strong," Nelson said at about 1:15 p.m.
She said there was beginning to be turnover in the parking lot, which contains 5,700 parking spaces.
The city of Rohnert Park tweeted that both the casino and the parking lot had reached capacity, and recommended that people consider visiting the casino on another day.
Nelson disputed that, saying there is still space both in the casino and the parking lot and that people should still come by.
The Graton Casino is filled to capacity at this time! Traffic through Rohnert Park and on surface streets in the area is extremely congested
— City of Rohnert Park (@RPTrafficUpdate) November 5, 2013
She confirmed reports that there were long lines in the casino for people wanting to buy a Graton Rewards Card, which allows gamblers to accumulate points that can get them perks such as free meals or hotel stays.
"Because people are anxious to earn points on their play, they'd rather wait in line to get their card than start playing," Nelson said.
Overall, she said, people are being patient and have a sense of humor about the delays. She noted that people can also sign up for the rewards card online.
The California Highway Patrol was warning motorists that U.S. Highway 101 is gridlocked near the casino, and recommended that drivers use state Highway 116 to Stony Point Road as an alternate route.