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The top 10 local business stories of 2013

  • Customers play baccarat at the Graton Resort and Casino on opening day. (CONNER JAY/Press Democrat)

A year of economic recovery in Sonoma County brought expansions in key industries, an improving job market and major commercial developments, including the debut of a Las Vegas-style casino on the outskirts of Rohnert Park.

The wine industry enjoyed another enormous harvest, and craft beer king Lagunitas Brewing continued its rapid expansion.

The housing market improved as foreclosures dropped to a seven-year low, and local hospitals and clinics restructured operations as they prepared for the new federal health care law, which extended insurance to tens of thousands of people in Sonoma County.

Here's a look at the top local business stories of 2013, as selected by Press Democrat staff.

1) Graton Rancheria casino opens

After a decade of debates, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria opened its $800 million casino on the western border of Rohnert Park in November.

Spanning 340,000 square feet, it's one of the largest casinos in California. It is expected to draw 6.1 million people annually and rake in $533 million a year in gambling revenues within two years, according to a report prepared for Station Casinos, which manages the casino.

Massive crowds flocked to the casino on its opening day, with cars and busses clogging Highway 101 and determined gamblers walking across fields to get in the doors.

Agreements the tribe signed with local governments will pay Sonoma County about $9 million a year for 20 years to address negative impacts of the casino, and a total of $251 million over 20 years to Rohnert Park for public safety, education and other community services.

“It's a force to be reckoned with in gaming,” said Dennis Whittlesey, a longtime Indian law attorney who has worked on numerous casino developments.

2) Housing market improves

Foreclosures dropped to a seven-year low in Sonoma County in 2013, a bit of good news in a region where 11,000 homes were lost to foreclosure in the past seven years.

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