New look for Sonoma County’s Graton casino on reopening day June 18
Following Nevada’s lead, Graton Resort & Casino has reopened with a whole new look and feel to California gaming.
The federal casino operation closed in mid-March due to the COVID-19 crisis that prompted shelter-in-place orders by state and local governments.
“Smooth as can be -- perfect. (There were) no lines because we had all of our doors open and operating. People are glad to be back and having fun,” Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris said.
Nevada casinos reopened June 4 when Gov. Steve Sisolak relaxed restrictions. Much to the chagrin of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, some Indian gaming operations opened sooner, including two in the North Bay.
But Sarris told the Business Journal that he wanted to wait.
“We wanted the extra time. We wanted to create a safe situation that’s sustainable,” Sarris said.
Described as hospital grade–type disinfecting, “clean” is the operative word for the reopening of the 680,000-square-foot resort and casino.
The Rohnert Park casino, which opened in 2013, will undergo “around-the-clock” electrostatic spraying designed to kill viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. Every time dealers leave the tables, their cards, chips and whatever other high-touch objects will be cleaned off. Shift changes add to the cleaning protocol for handheld radios, cellphones and engineering tools.
Guests will find hand sanitizer stations placed throughout the casino, including the main floor, hotel lobby, restaurants, elevators and entrances for both patrons and employees. All 2,000 employees are returning, with the exception of 20 staffers over age 65 who chose not to, Sarris said. Twelve hundred were furloughed.
Above all changes, masks will be required.
“We’re going to be very strict about this,” Sarris said, adding he’s “beefed up” security to ensure guests follow the rules. There will be no exceptions.
Customers will have their temperatures read by thermal cameras. Anyone with a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will be taken to a private area for a secondary screening to determine the first test’s accuracy. The scrutiny will also be given to prospective guests coughing profusely. If they fail the secondary screening, they won’t be allowed entry, according to Sarris.
Social distancing will be expected throughout the grounds, and guests will find many signs throughout the casino about that. High-roller areas have been divided to space these VIPs out.
“It’s going to be airy and light — especially on the gaming floor,” Sarris said. Half the slot machines have been deactivated. A maximum of four people may sit at each gaming, bar or restaurant table. Outside dining will also be available at casino eateries Tony’s and the Daily Grill.
“You’re not going to see crowds in bars, crowds in restaurants. It’s not going to be as fun, but it will be safe,” Sarris explained.
Like many other big entertainment venues up and down the state, no shows will return as of yet.
There are other exceptions to the welcome mat. During the initial re-opening, The Spa & Salon, hotel pool, fitness club, business center and valet service are temporarily suspended. Visitors will be required to park their own vehicles.
Casino closure has been hard and unique
“Without the lights, the place has been eerie. Security swears it sees ghosts. It’s like the ’Twilight Zone,’” Sarris said.
The tribal chairman couldn’t venture a guess on how the shutdown has hurt the casino’s bottom line, but he hinted it certainly brought about a hiccup in revenue.
“Obviously, we were closed for nearly three months. Our 2020 finances have been compromised; I can’t predict (to what extent); I just hope we get back on our feet,” he said, adding that’s he grateful to have “operated conservatively already.”
“I’m just happy people will have something to do now,” Sarris said of the opening.
Local law enforcement also welcomes the return.
“This pandemic, when it hit us, it hit us pretty hard. If the casino does it right (with the reopening), it could be a win-win for use,” Rohnert Park police Chief Tim Mattos said, adding Graton has been a good neighbor. “Our community and our residents need relief and a release. We’ll police like we need to and support them like we should.”
Bringing on the chi-ching
According to a 2018 report by Meister Economic Consulting for the American Gaming Association, Indian gaming operations account for $15 billion in annual tax revenue in 28 states. California Indian casinos rake in about a fifth of those collections, creating more than 124,000 jobs.