The new casino in Rohnert Park is within weeks of announcing an official opening date, staff said Friday.

"We still aiming for fall of this year, so we're getting mighty close," Joe Hasson, vice president and general manager of the Graton Resort and Casino. "We'll have a real date; with just a little bit more construction behind us, we'll be able call a real date.'

Developers have long said they would like to open around the first of November. Narrowing down that date is of considerable public interest, since it will determine when thousands of workers can report for duty, when restaurant owners and other businesses can move in, and when revenue begins flowing to tribe that owns the casino, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and eventually to the city and county.

Hasson and his aides seemed optimistic they could meet or beat the November date, based on the pace of construction.

"The ceiling is beginning to take on a little bit of a finished look; there is carpet in progress; slot machines — first one arrives today; restaurants are being shaped out," Hasson said. "So we're at a point now where a lot of what's being done now is no longer the infrastructure, it is the beautiful aspects of the casino. It will look like a casino resort in short order."

Hasson met with the media Friday to mark the arrival of the first of more than 3,000 slot machines — in this case a model from Bally Technologies worth about $25,000.

Hasson displayed the machine, adorned with balloons, in front of the casino. The public and media are still not allowed to look inside the structure, reportedly for security reasons, but the rest of the machines in the first shipment were inside being installed. It will take several months to receive, install and test the slot machines.

Most games are entirely electronic, even if they are tricked out with old-fashioned looking handles, Hasson said. But the casino will have a handful of old-fashioned mechanical games, although even those now contain at least some electronics.

"Old school is good," he said.

All the machines will be equipped to accept currency — coins and bills — and also the credit-card like prepaid cards offered by the casino.

"We'll always take care of the guests that make themselves well known to us by use of our guest loyalty card," he said, "but at the end of the day, the game takes currency."

Hasson said he did not know what the payout formula for the machines will be, but the public, not surprisingly, tends to like a machine that pays out frequently. The machines can be adjusted by the casino management to be more or less generous.

"Loose is always good," he said. "I'll send home thousands of winners every day."

The slots floor will feature a mix of many manufacturers and offer a variety of games and features, he said. The casino will both buy machines outright — at a cost of between $15,000 and $30,000 each — and lease from the manufacturers.

The initial mix of machines will be based on observations of other area casinos and experience by staff in casinos in Las Vegas and other parts of California. Once the doors open, however, the type of machines on the floor will be determined by the customers themselves.

"The public votes with their demand for a game," he said. "If the public loves a game, often times we'll get another one. If they don't particularly love a game, what we do is say 'it has reached the end of its test life, let's replace it with something else that might have a better run.'"

Replacing the pricy machines is surprisingly easy, he said, since manufacturers are liberal about changing out less popular models.

"Usually manufacturers will work with us to strike a good deal and maintain a good balance of their products," he said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.)