As many as 6,000 people at a time are expected to be inside the new Graton Resort & Casino on Nov. 5, it's opening day.


The $800 million Graton Resort & Casino will open for business on Nov. 5, casino officials said Thursday.

"What I'm going to do is open the doors and let people stream in," said casino vice-president and general manager Joe Hasson.

"Some fanfare" will accompany the opening, he said, but the nature of it is undecided and there are no plans for celebrity entertainment that day, a Tuesday.

What will be the Bay Area's largest casino is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and operated by Las Vegas-based Station Casinos.

The single-level gambling palace, located on 66 acres of the Graton Rancheria's reservation just outside Rohnert Park, will have 3,000 slot and video poker machines, 144 table games and a large, high stakes poker room.

It also will have four restaurants, a food court with nine vendors, including four developed by Sonoma County restaurateurs, and an 8,700-square-foot special-events center.

The casino's proximity to a major metropolitan area — it is the closest to San Francisco — and its location in tourist-rich Sonoma County, make it a prime property, said Hasson, a 30-year industry veteran who has managed gambling enterprises from Mississippi to Nevada.

"I've never had the pleasure of a grand opening that is as exciting as this one," he said Thursday.

Hasson said he expects as many as 6,000 customers to be in the casino at any one time throughout the opening day to gamble, eat and generally take in the new venue. Many will be brought in by bus and limousine from around the Bay Area and beyond.

"I think you'll see every kind of transportation at our door on opening day," he said.

Rohnert Park officials, projecting a significant increase in traffic, are working closely with the CHP, county emergency dispatchers and local fire agencies to prepare, said Assistant City Manager Darrin Jenkins.

"They have 5,500 parking spaces and we are developing contingency plans to address the scenario where the parking lot is full and people are still interested in coming up," he said. "We want to avoid having cars waiting in the highway lanes with nowhere for them to go."

The city also is pushing hard to complete improvements to the main access to the casino, Wilfred Avenue — now renamed Golf Course Drive West — which is being widened from Redwood Drive to Stony Point Road.

At the least, said Jenkins, the road will be completed from Redwood Drive to the casino entrance. But there is a slim chance that it will not be finished out to Stony Point Road by Nov. 5, he said.

"We're developing plans for both scenarios, just in case we don't quite make it," Jenkins said.

The opening comes after almost exactly a decade of announcements, planning, lawsuits, controversy and bureaucratic hurdles.

Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris in April 2003, two years after the tribe was restored by Congress, said it would build a casino on land near Sears Point. A public outcry led the tribe to turn that land over to the Sonoma Land Trust for open space preservation and set its sight on the current property, which Station Casinos bought in 2005 for about $100 million.

The federal government took that property into trust for the tribe in 2010. That set the stage for the project — then stalled by a lawsuit filed by opponents, the economic slump and Station Casinos' bankruptcy — to move forward.

Construction started in 2012, the same year a market analysis performed for Station Casinos projected annual gambling revenues of $522 million by 2016.

The casino has just over 900 people on its payroll now and Hasson said 2,000 permanent employees will be in place before the Nov. 5 opening.

He said 22 of the 900 current employees are from Las Vegas and the others are from Sonoma County and elsewhere throughout the Bay Area. Of the current employees, about 300 are dealers who trained at the casino's free dealer school in Rohnert Park.

About a quarter of the 320,000 square-foot building is in use, mostly for training purposes and information technology and administrative support functions.