UNITED STATES—While the rest of the US, and indeed the world, continues to battle against financial hardship, California’s economy is looking in great shape. A strong 2022 has so far been followed by similar stability in the first quarter of 2023, and to date, the threatened clouds on the horizon have got no closer.

That’s certainly the case in Elk Grove, just south of Sacramento. Last year, the city saw the Sky River Casino open its doors to the public for the first time. Initial plans had been for a more comprehensive business and leisure resort, of which the casino would only be one part. The Wilton Rancheria tribe originally planned for it to be accompanied by a 300+ room hotel and an exhibition center.

Financial considerations necessitated a change of plan, and the tribe elected to simplify the plans, go ahead with the casino on its own and see how things went. Six months later they have seen enough and are ready to press on with what is effectively phase two of the scheme.

Australian visitors love casinos!

So what has made Sky River such a success? Right now, the facility is essentially a casino, boasting 2,000 slots and 80 gaming tables, surrounded by a choice of 20 eating and drinking establishments, from traditional American fare to Asian specialties. That’s been more than enough to attract both locals and tourists since the facility opened its doors last August.

Overseas visitor numbers are back up to normal after the events of 2020 and 2021. In particular, the number of visitors from Australia hit a record high in 2022. 156,000 Australians travelled to the USA last year, making it the second most popular destination after New Zealand.

Casino gaming is ingrained in Australian culture. Australians spend on average almost $1,200 per person per year on gambling, 50 percent of which is spent on pokies. It’s a vital market and you need only glance at the Casino Aus website (casinoaus.net/real-money-casinos/) to see the vast number of real money online casinos that are pitched at Australian audiences. Those bring numerous benefits, such as reduced costs through special promotions, an almost limitless choice of games and, of course, being available any time on your phone. But even the pokies-mad Australians agree that you can’t beat the fun, excitement and overall experience of spending an evening at a real world casino.

In short, it has only taken a few months for Sky River to become recognized as one of the biggest and most salubrious night spots in this part of California.

Boyd and Wilton Rancheria – a successful partnership

The Sky River casino is managed by Boyd Gaming. That’s a familiar name to anyone who has spent time in Las Vegas, where Sam Boyd opened his first casino in the 1940s. Today, Boyd Gaming operates 29 casinos across the USA, and the group is still headed up, at least nominally, by Sam’s son Bill Boyd, who turns 92 this year.

It took 10 years and $500 million to make Sky River a reality, and Jesus Tarango, the Tribal Chair of Wilton Rancheria told local press that it was always the intention to create more than just a casino at Sky River. He said: “We have never wavered in our vision to create a complete entertainment resort. In the short time we’ve been open, we are already moving on with our plans.”

He went on to pay tribute to the working relationship with Boyd Group and how this has been instrumental in making Sky River so successful so fast. Boyd Group were no less effusive. VP of Corporate Communication David Strow told a local newspaper: “It’s doing absolutely fantastic [and is] even exceeding our expectations.” He went on to confirm that Boyd Group expects to pocket $50 million in 2023 as a management fee, adding this is a “minority” of the amount the Tribe will receive.

Investing in the future

Neither management party has any plans to simply sit and count its money. They have yet to confirm the exact nature of the expansion planned, but we can gather some clues from the original plans that were revised and downsized. These included a hotel with more than 300 rooms and a multi-purpose convention center that would host both corporate events and entertainment.

There is also the possibility of extending the casino, adding more food outlets and potentially retail units, too. Representatives from Boyd Group and Wilton Rancheria are expected to meet in the coming weeks to make some provisional plans and apply for the necessary permits.