AMADOR COUNTY -- A new Amador County casino filled up to capacity in a matter of hours Monday.
Harrah’s Northern California Casino south of Ione had its soft opening and thousands showed up -- more than the casino could allow in safely. That forced the casino and the California Highway Patrol to turn away hundreds.
When cars reached the turn to Coal Mine Road, where the casino is located, CHP officers wouldn’t let drivers through.
"They didn’t think anything out," said Ione resident Noel Stewart. "People are backed up all the way to 88, maybe even into Ione."
Stewart has lived in Amador County his entire life. His family settled in the area in 1849.
Now, he worries what the new casino might do to traffic in the area.
"I think a lot of people thought that the machines would kind of be opened up and they would win a lot of money," he told FOX40. "The only thing that they’re going to get is this, a traffic jam."
But the casino says it was expecting a large turnout.
"That’s why we partnered with CHP to kind of help us with traffic control and everything like that," said Harrah's Northern California Senior Vice President and General Manager JC Rieger.
The casino has more than 900 parking spots and shortly after the soft opening happened at 4:30 Monday afternoon, every last one of them filled up.
"We wouldn’t expect it to always be like this. Our operation levels will level out," Rieger said.
The casino says it’s creating more than 400 full-time jobs. Even before opening, it brought in $20 million to the community and plans to bring in $8 million per year now that it’s operating.
After Monday night, Stewart says he may not be returning.
"This will be my last time here," Stewart said. "This used to be a sacred site for the Miwok people."
The casino believes that in a few weeks the crowds will shrink down.
Monday was just a soft opening. The grand opening weekend will be May 17 through 19.
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