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Graton Resort and Casino unveiled before Nov. 5 opening

Finishing touches are performed on the Graton Resort and Casino, Wednesday Oct. 2, 2013 in Rohnert Park. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.

The scale and scope of the Graton Resort & Casino came into sharp focus Wednesday when its doors were thrown open to the media for the first time.

The event was part of a well-orchestrated marketing campaign for the casino that is gathering steam in advance of the facility's planned Nov. 5 opening.

“What you see is $825 million worth of work,” said Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which owns the casino.

“What you see is what $825 million buys you,” he said, standing by the six-lane, glass-enclosed valet entrance on the casino's north entrance. Nearby was a small fleet of black Cadillac Escalade SUVs bearing the casino logo. Sarris' voice competed with the sound of construction machinery hurrying to finish the job.

Inside, the gambling floor, four full-service restaurants, a nine-vendor food marketplace, three bars and an events center take up about five acres — just over a third the floor space of Santa Rosa Plaza.

The space has 11,000 square yards of carpet containing 28 colors and featuring green, blue and red floral patterns, and 32,000 square feet of terrazzo flooring accented with mother of pearl and mirror chips.

From the 34-foot-high ceiling hang 199 chandeliers, many of which feature arrangements of blown pink glass petals that descend like schools of tropical fish over a giant room of faux and painted wood, green-veined marble and stacked cream brick pillars.

Central to the scene is the field of 3,000 slot machines — from Ruby Slippers to Big Red Lantern to Dynasty of Gold to Cheers Lucky Round — stretching almost ad far as can be seen and interspersed with poker and blackjack tables and ATMs.

Sarris was in an expansive mood as he and casino general manager Joe Hasson guided reporters around the gambling floor and the surrounding restaurants and food marketplace, each of which can be entered from outside the building.

“I mean, check out the stalls,” he said, after urging the group to examine the restrooms, which are finished in marble and wood. “Someone told me, 'I want one of these in my house,'” he said.

Later, Sarris overruled Hasson and led reporters into a live construction area that was being transformed into the Tony's of North Beach restaurant.

“C'mon, Joe, we've got to give it to them,” he said.

At the center of the casino, in the under-construction Sky Bar, he said: “You won't see this anywhere in North America,” and pointed upward, where a five-paneled skylight the size of a large executive suite let in the sunlight.

“I was adamant about that skylight,” Sarris said. He wanted the casino to be a place where people could see light and know the time of day, he said. The casino also will have clocks.

Both the natural light — from almost any point on the gambling floor the three glass entryways are also visible — and the clocks are features that casinos have traditionally avoided.

“The whole idea was keeping people in the casino. Once they come in, you want them to lose their track of time and reality and have no reasons to go,” said Anthony Curtis, president of lasvegasadvisor.com, a website for casino enthusiasts.

That strategy is shifting, but Graton Resort & Casino's approach is “definitely still the road less traveled,” Curtis said.

“I think they just said, 'We don't need to close people in; they can see the light,'” he said of the casino just outside Rohnert Park city limits. The sprawling complex is to be managed by Station Casinos of Las Vegas for seven years.

Sarris said the casino will employ 2,000 full-time employees and 200 to 300 part-time workers. All would get retirement, health and medical benefits, he said.

Asked by a TV reporter how he felt “after all you've gone through,” Sarris said: “I'm glad to be alive to see that I've been able to deliver all I've promised.”

The marketing of the casino got under full swing this week, with the release of TV, print, radio and Internet advertisements in a multi-language campaign that experts estimated will cost millions of dollars.

As reporters gathered near the entrance waiting for the tour to begin, Chwinn Cosgrove, business development manager for New Tang Dynasty Television, said there is considerable anticipation among her company's Bay Area audience.

“There are a lot of new immigrants,” she said. “The first thing they want to do is go to a casino. The American experience.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)

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