Sky River Casino, a $500 million resort owned by local Wilton Rancheria and operated by Boyd Gaming, is now open in Elk Grove.
Casino staff made a surprise announcement about its soft opening on Facebook after midnight on August 16. “Psst… how are you?” We are open,” they said in a post featuring a photo of activated slot machines. Sky River officials announced last month that they would open in September.
Hanna Baumann, a spokeswoman for the casino’s public relations firm, Cinch PR, told the Herald that casino officials had decided to open to the public late on August 15. They still plan to hold a grand opening in mid-September, she added.
Sky River sits on 36 acres of land along Highway 99 in southern Elk Grove, and its main entrance is at the corner of Promenade and Sky River drives. It is the first Indian casino in Sacramento County.
The casino is expected to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The casino’s 110,200 square foot gaming floor features 2,000 slot machines and 80 table games, along with 17 planned restaurants and bars.
Ground was broken on the casino site and the Sky River name was introduced in March 2021. This facility opened a few months earlier than planned this summer.
“That’s what you get when you get a good partner with Boyd Gaming,” Wilton Rancheria president Jesus Tarango said of the rapid build on August 15. “They’ve been in the game; they know how to do it.
Sky River was built on the former site of the partially built “Ghost Mall,” or Outlet Collection at Elk Grove Mall, which lay abandoned for 11 years before being demolished in 2019 after Boyd Gaming purchased its ground.
Just under 2,000 employees will work at the casino when it opens, said Chris Gibase, Sky River’s chief operating officer.
“Our training is complete, we have everyone in place,” he said.
The Herald visited Sky River the day before the casino’s soft opening. The gambling hall of this casino was filled with hundreds of activated slot machines. A few restaurants, like the upscale SR Prime Steakhouse, have had their tables set. Several arcade workers went through training while construction workers put the finishing touches on areas like the high-limit arcade.
Some of the interior decorations were influenced by natural imagery from the local area, such as acorn-shaped glass chandeliers and a jagged ceiling pattern based on the dry bed of the Cosumnes River, explained tour guide Roni Phillips. Unlike many casinos, Sky River’s entrances have large windows to let in sunlight.
A centerpiece of the casino is The Market at Sky River, which is a 400-seat food hall that has 12 small restaurants and bars, including a sushi bar created by Billy Ngo, who owns the famous Sacramento restaurant Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine . Market diners can use a smartphone app to place orders and have them served at their table in the lobby.
On the other side of the casino is 32 Brews Street, a large sports bar that offers locally brewed beer and will be open 24 hours a day.
Gibase highlighted the casino’s dining options as one of Sky River’s main draws.
“If you’re a foodie, if you like craft beer, if you like wines, this is the one place you can buy them all,” he said.
Smoking will be allowed in the game room, but Gibase noted that the floor has vents designed to push cigarette smoke up to the ceiling. This contrasts with typical ventilation systems with ceiling vents that blow downward.
“So if I smoke a cigarette next to you, you shouldn’t smell it,” Gibase said. “(The smoke) should go up and out.”
Regarding the casino’s impacts on traffic on local streets, he said the casino had an “extensive traffic plan” in place.
“As we prepare to open, we can eliminate some of the issues that may have occurred in other (casino) openings, but we also have a larger land mass than most other (casino) properties and we so we can filter people in and easier than some others,” Gibase said.
Asked about the casino’s security system, he said Sky River has security personnel who work with the California Highway Patrol and local police departments. The casino parking lot has several security cameras installed.
Elk Grove Police spokesman Sgt. Jason Jimenez spoke to the Herald about the role of the police.
“We will provide policing services to Sky River Casino as needed, as will other businesses here in Elk Grove,” he said. “As with other businesses in Elk Grove, we will work with Sky River Casino staff to ensure that we continue our mission of making Elk Grove a safe place to live, work and play.”
As for the casino’s future, Gibase said Sky River could evolve into a Las Vegas-style casino resort. Boyd Gaming also owns a vacant 64-acre lot next to the casino.
“If you look, all four sides of this building are capable of expanding,” Gibase said. “So you can expect a large hotel, entertainment complexes, showrooms, spas, swimming pools – just about anything you would see in a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip will be on this property. It will be an economic engine not only for Elk Grove, but also for Sacramento County.
In later comments, Gibase said the casino had no immediate plans for a shuttle service that would help transport people from other communities, such as Galt, to the casino, but said it was accessible by public transport.
Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen and other local elected officials were invited to a casino preview on August 11. She said the casino would make the city a tourist destination.
“Once you walk through the doors, you’re transformed into another place,” she told the Herald. “I am happy for the Wilton Rancheria which has been waiting for this historic moment for decades. The revenue will help tribal members find jobs, access higher education, etc.
During the media preview day, a few dozen chairs were set up in the valet parking lot for Wilton Rancheria alumni and other members for a private ceremony later that day. Sky River’s opening follows a decade of planning, legal challenges and COVID-related project delays for the Tribe and Boyd Gaming.
The Wilton Rancheria reached a historic milestone when it regained Federal Tribal Recognition status in 2009 after being closed for 50 years. However, the tribe had no land of its own until 2017, when the US Department of the Interior placed its proposed Elk Grove casino site in a federal trust.
At groundbreaking in 2021, Tarango said revenue from the casino would help his tribe provide housing, education and healthcare resources to its 853 members. On August 15, he described his feelings about being at the casino as a “homecoming” at the Wilton Rancheria.
“When you think about who we are as a people, you really can’t have a community unless you have a land base, and that’s the only land we have that’s in trust for us,” said Tarango. “Today is a great day because it’s almost like our people are going home and we have a home. It really should do what it’s supposed to do – it’s supposed to bring us to self-sufficiency and give us an economic boost.