In a small building in a shopping plaza on Rohnert Park's east side, Phantasia Gabriel nursed her dreams, which lay across Highway 101 at the fast-rising Graton Resort & Casino, where she hopes to become a poker dealer.

"I just turned 21 and I went to Vegas for my birthday," said the Santa Rosa resident, one of 100 people who on Monday attended the first round of interviews for the initial batch of a projected 2,000 casino jobs.

"I saw how much fun those girls were having and I want to be one of them," said Gabriel, who currently works as a membership counselor at a 24-Hour Fitness gym.

In a Crayola-colored waiting room at the Graton Resort & Casino Employment Center, at the Mountain Shadows Plaza, Gabriel and a roomful of other hopefuls watched a video on a repeating loop.

The casino, now under construction along Wilfred Avenue, is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and the tribe's chairman, Greg Sarris, had been filmed against a lush Sonoma County vista.

He said: "When we started this, we said, 'If we can get a casino, we will only do this if it will be something that will benefit us as well as other people, and position us once again to be keepers of the land.'"

The general manager of the 3,000-slot machine casino, Joe Hasson, appeared against a cinematic backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. The casino resort, set to open late this year, would be "setting the bar at a level the Bay Area has not seen," he said.

"This is something I've always wanted to do," said Veronica Jaynes, 33, of Santa Rosa. A stay-at-home mother for 10 years now, she's ready to work, she said, surrounded by posters that proclaimed, among other things, that smiles were key attributes for employees to display.

"The ideal position would be as a dealer," Jaynes said. "Getting myself out in the work-world would be great."

About 800 dealers will be hired for the 24-hour operation, said Valerie Murzl, human resources director at Station Casinos, which will run the casino resort for seven years. The company is to get a management fee for the first four years of 24 percent of net revenues — which are projected to be $440 million a year by 2016 — and 27 percent for the last three years of its contract.

In the past week, 3,000 people submitted applications through the gratonresortcasino.com website for jobs, Murzl said. The first positions to be filled are for dealers, security staff and hospitality jobs related to slot machines.

"So far we've been drawing from local people, we're seeing a lot from Sonoma County," Hasson said. He said he expects 5,000 to 6,000 people will be interviewed to fill the available jobs.

"This is a painless process," Julie Joyce, one of a team of North Bay residents hired to perform screening interviews, said to Kristin Dagenais, 32, who wants to be a dealer.

"Why do you want to work for the Graton Resort & Casino?" Joyce asked. She was in one of a row of cubicles set up for the first stop on a conveyor belt of interviews.

"I've always liked the fast pace," said Dagenais, a Santa Rosa resident and a stay-at-home mother. "I love bright lights and the community. I love people."

The hallway was crowded with job-seekers and Station Casinos staff. In a room to the side there were 16 stacks of manila folders on a table. Each folder was full of papers — applications and resumes presumably — and each stack was labeled in a scrawl of black magic marker: "Poker dealer," one said. "Security EMT," said another. "Casino host," said a third.

Wendell White of Windsor waited in another room after making it through two interviews.

"I felt like the questions they asked, I had the answers. I definitely hit the ball," said White, 51.

Recently laid off from a job as a manufacturing technician, he applied to be a slot machine technician, figuring his skills would be a good match.

"It's a great opportunity because they don't have a lot of options out there," White said of his efforts to find another job. "There's hiring but it's hard to get behind that door unless you know someone."

Dagenais sat down for a second interview.

"I understand you're interested in the dealer's school," interviewer Dave Shumaker said.

"Highly," said Dagenais.

"I'll sign you up for that," Shumaker said.

Soon, more applicants filled the waiting room.

"I've always liked casinos and that environment," said Sterling Monterrosa, 21, of Santa Rosa, who is now a bookkeeper at a Safeway.

He was confident, but even if he doesn't get the job he wants as a dealer or slot ambassador, he said, "I think it'll be nice to have somewhere to go around here, there's not a lot of entertainment."

Meanwhile, Casino opponents are still fighting the $800 million project. An Aug. 2 trial date has been set for a lawsuit filed by Stop the Casino 101 against Gov. Jerry Brown that challenges the legal status of the Graton Rancheria's 254-acre reservation outside Rohnert Park.

The suit aims to overturn a 2012 agreement between the state and the Graton Rancheria that allows the tribe to run a Las Vegas-style casino.

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