That didn’t take long.
Hours after its late-night grand opening, hundreds flooded Wilton Rancheria’s Sky River Casino in Elk Grove Tuesday morning, crowding card tables, grabbing seats at the slots and lining up dozens deep to sign up for the casino’s rewards cards.
The $500 million Elk Grove attraction 15 minutes south of Sacramento is open for business and Lisa and Chris Gurule were ready. The Gurules live in east Elk Grove, a short drive from the casino, the people Sky River hopes to lure from the casinos in Lincoln, Wheatland and Shingle Springs.
“We’re very excited. There’s entertainment, fun, places to eat. We normally go to Hard Rock (Hotel and Casino in Wheatland) or Thunder Valley,” Lisa Gurule said.
Hours earlier, at 11:30 p.m. Monday, the Wilton Rancheria and Sky River made it official, opening its doors to its first guests.
“When you walk through it’s a very impressive place, it’s a beautiful place that’s been built,” Chris Gibase said Monday afternoon.
Gibase isn’t wrong. The casino’s president and chief operating officer has seen Sky River’s nearly 18-month rise from the site of Elk Grove’s infamous “ghost mall” to a splashy new entrant on the Sacramento region’s competitive tribal gaming landscape.
For Robert Virgil of Elk Grove, the new casino’s debut was well-timed. The Bay Area Rapid Transit control center manager is retiring next month after 21 years on the job and he’d been watching for news on its opening.
“I’ve been looking forward to it,” he said Tuesday morning. “This is a happy retirement for me and it’s good for the community. They’ve needed something like this and it’s the perfect location.”
Perfect, too, for Virgil’s mother, Mabel. A doctor’s appointment at Kaiser Permanente Promenade next door to Sky River on Promenade Parkway turned into a mid-morning two-fer and a turn at the slots.
“One thing they could’ve done is put a casino next to a hospital,” Virgil joked as his mother headed for the machines.
Reporters on Monday received a glimpse of what people saw when they stepped through the doors Tuesday.
Sky River is a casino, so rows of glowing slot machines and green felt-lined table games of chance dominate — 2,000 slots and 80 table games in all spread over the 100,000 square-foot gaming floor. A large, circular bar sits like a roulette wheel in the center of the action.
The blown glass chandeliers in the shape of oak leaves and acorns hanging above the casino floor pay homage to the Wilton Rancheria’s tribal lands.
Banks of television monitors, some flashing the day’s sports highlights and others blaring MTV-era rock, ringed the floor and flickered from the casino’s bars and restaurants.
But Gibase said Sky River wants to be known as much for a regional dining destination as for gaming.
He pointed to the casino’s 17 bars and restaurants from Sacramento chef Billy Ngo’s Japanese concept Fukuro by Kru to taproom-meets-sports bar 32 Brews St., the 32 craft beers of its name all brewed locally; to SR Prime Steakhouse and the high-end Asian fusion of San Francisco’s Dragon Beaux, set to open later this year.
“There are 17 bars and restaurants here that people are really going to gravitate to. The casino’s really nice — it offers the newest, latest, greatest machines — a variety of Asian-style games. But the restaurants, the bars, is what’s really going to wow people,” Gibase said.
“One of the things that this property has been built upon is to be food-facing and beverage-facing. So, when we built this place — we have the newest and latest machines — but beyond that, if you’re a foodie, if you like to eat out or if you like trying different types of food, this is the place.”
Meantime, black-vested casino workers were fine-tuning slot machines on the vast gaming floor — last-minute adjustments in anticipation of the crowds to come. Hard-hat construction crews scaled ladders into the ceiling above the spacious high-stakes gaming room; while dozens more restaurant workers sat down for orientation in one of the gaming room’s many eateries.
Outside, another construction crew aboard a crane was busy tweaking the large K in Sky River Casino’s facade sign.
About 1,700 people are on the job at Sky River, close to the 2,000 employees the casino planned to hire when construction plans were announced last year.
“We’re hiring every day,” Gibase said.