Graton Resort and Casino announces plan to close amid coronavirus outbreak
The Graton Resort & Casino, the largest gambling destination in the Bay Area, will close Tuesday following reports that the coronavirus is uncontained in Sonoma County, with at least four cases of community spread.
Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which owns the $825 million Las Vegas-style casino outside Rohnert Park, announced in a written statement the property would close at 5 p.m. Tuesday, saying in an interview that it was the responsible thing to do.
“In the casino world, it’s virtually impossible to maintain proper social distancing,” Sarris said. “I decided the socially responsible thing to do was to close the casino.”
Sarris said his decision came after news reports over the weekend, including confirmation of community spread of the coronavirus in Sonoma County, as well as new directives from Gov. Gavin Newsom related to bars, brewpubs, wine tasting rooms, as well as calls for seniors to isolate themselves at home.
Newsom stopped short of ordering casinos to close. And it’s unclear, based on tribal sovereignty, whether the state would have the authority to close tribal casinos.
Casino throughout the United States have come under scrutiny for failing to close more quickly, even as governors and health officers around the country issued directives limiting large gatherings of people.
In Las Vegas, Wynn Resorts announced it would close its Wynn Las Vegas and Encore properties starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. MGM Resorts International planned to close down casino operations Monday and its hotels Tuesday. Other tribal casinos throughout Southern California and the Sierra Nevada foothills said Sunday and Monday they would temporarily close.
Parkwest Casino, the Petaluma card room closed down at midnight Sunday.
Officials with River Rock Casino near Geyserville could not immediately be reached Monday for comment. An employee who identified himself only as an operator answered the phone Monday afternoon, and said the casino was not closed and had no plans to close. The last coronavirus-related message posted to the website was from three days ago, and it promised patrons the casino is taking precautions. In a Facebook comment about noon Sunday, the casino reiterated plans to remain open. The casino is owned by the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians.
Another local tribe, Windsor-based Lytton Rancheria, plans to close its San Pablo Lytton Casino at midnight Tuesday, an employee confirmed Monday evening. The closure will last through April 15, and employees will receive pay and benefits.
The Graton casino closure, Sarris said, will last until at least April 1, but he said he’s prepared to extend the closure beyond that point based on conditions surrounding the spread of coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, a respiratory disease.
Graton Resort & Casino employs about 2,000 people, and Sarris has committed to maintain salary and benefits for all employees, including estimated income from tips for all employees, a move mirroring Wynn Resorts.
Sarris wouldn’t disclose how much the decision would cost the casino, saying it didn’t matter.
“If we don’t do the right thing, there will be nobody back here to make money again,” Sarris said. “You don’t think about the money, you think about the right thing to do. If we can beat this thing, we will be fine again. If we can’t beat this thing, what good does money do? It doesn’t matter, period.”
You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tylersilvy.