Crowds Flock to Thunder Valley Opening

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There's excitement in the air over a new Indian gaming casino that opened up this morning in the Sacramento area. It's expected to compete with other area casinos in the Reno/Tahoe market.

With a snip of the ribbon, eight years of wondering and waiting is over for the United Auburn Indian tribe. The Thunder Valley casino opened up in Placer County, ending years of economic struggle for the 255-member tribe.

The line of cars stretched five miles long out to Highway 65 as 5,000 people waited in line bright and early to test their luck.

One prospective gambler said: "Six o'clock this morning we were out in the parking lot. I've got my card and I'm winning today."

There must be something in the water.

The casino hadn't been open 15 minutes before Anna Rhinehart and San Chow each won a $1,000 on the slot machines. "I hit three sevens for 300, then three sevens for 200, then again for 300, then a 1,000," Rhinehrt said.

But, the Indian casino is much more than gaming. It has three restaurants, seven bars, and a 500-seat buffet.

Judy Cayton drove seven hours from Oregon. "It's a beautiful building and the restaurants are excellent," she said.

The casino is 200,000 square feet and cost $215 million to build. It's the first partnership between Station Casinos, which owns 11 properties in Las Vegas, and Indian gaming.

"In our view this is an untapped market in Northern California," said Lelsey Pittman of Station casinos. "It's an opportunity to help the tribe along in terms of economic self sufficiency."

Analysts say the casino could make a net profit of $200 million a year. Casino executives will take that money and then invest it in other properties in Southern Nevada.

Station Casinos also has plans to expand Thunder Valley. It bought an 100-acre parcel of land next to the casino to build a possible hotel, bringing thousands more people to Placer County.

The tribe expects the casino will pump $25 million into the local economy.

"It's one of the fastest growing counties in the nation," said Doug Elmets of United Auburn Indian Tribe. "It may look flat but it's an exciting area. "We expect people to flock here from all over the region."

Visitors say it has the look and feel of the foothills, but inside it's pure Las Vegas.

The Thunder Valley casino also employs about 1,800 people. They receive full health benefits, including a 401K plan.