ROHNERT PARK - Greg Sarris said he didn't want just a "tent in the field."
With his tribe's 340,000-square-foot Graton Resort and Casino set to open next month as the Bay Area's largest gambling venue, Sarris is getting his wish.
On a day that opponents of the casino announced plans to continue their legal battle to keep the casino's doors closed, Sarris, tribal leader of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, opened the casino's doors Wednesday to members of the media for a sneak peek at the $800 million complex's sea of slot machines and half-finished gourmet restaurants.
"This has been a long time coming," Sarris said. "I said from day one this is something I want to do right."
construction crews worked on the roadway and 5,700-space parking lot, while landscapers planted trees. Inside, the casino's 3,000 slot and video poker machines were set up and plugged in. But while much of the casino looked ready for action, the traditional casino sounds of spinning slot wheels and clanking poker chips were missing in lieu of electric screw drivers drilling and warning beeps of heavy machinery, as construction crews prepped the building for its Nov. 5 opening.
The casino will have 3,000 slot and video poker machines, 144 tables for blackjack, baccarat and Pai Gow poker, and poker and high-limit rooms. The Graton site, which is expected to draw patrons from around the Bay Area, will dwarf Sonoma County's reigning king of the slots, River Rock Casino in Geyserville, which has 1,250 slot machines and 20 tables on 62,000 square feet of floor space.
Along with its ornate chandeliers and high-end marble and wood paneling, at Graton's center sits its unfinished Sky Bar under a skylight, which Sarris claimed will make Graton the only casino in the world with a skylight open to its floor.
"Something that was important to me was that the casino not be oppressive," Sarris said. "So many casinos are dark."
As big of a draw as the gambling venues are expected to be, the culinary offerings could prove to be another major attraction.
Dining options will include four full-service restaurants, such as Martin Yan's M.Y. China and Tony Gemignani's Tony's of North Beach pizzeria. For more casual dining, a 500-seat food court with nine eateries will be highlighted by DK Wings, purveyed by Douglas Keane, reigning champion of the Bravo network's Top Chef Masters.
Sarris expressed as much enthusiasm for the craftsmanship of the bathrooms as any other part of the casino.
"I'm proud of the bathrooms," Sarris said from inside a men's room. "I love the stone work and the way the (design) theme continues from out in the casino into here."
Since its inception the casino has faced opposition. The Stop Graton Casino 101 Coalition has tried to halt the casino project through the courts, without success.
The group's lawsuit against the state challenging the casino's legality - based on the claim that the tribe's land remains under state sovereignty, and thus Nevada-style gaming on the property is illegal - was recently thrown out by a Sonoma County judge.
On Wednesday, the group announced it is in the process of filing an appeal of the decision.
Mike Healy, attorney for the casino's opposition group, said he doesn't expect the appeal to affect the casino's opening date, since it likely won't be viewed in time to have such an impact. But the coalition continues its fight in hopes of shuttering the casino at some point.
Objections to the casino include impacts on local businesses, increases in traffic, and moral concerns about feeding gambling addictions.
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©2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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