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Graton Resort and Casino offers smoke-free gaming area

Greg Sarris said there were “compromises I had to deal with” in opening the Graton Resort and Casino, and “one of those is casinos are places where people smoke.”

But Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is a nonsmoker. And since the tribe opened the Rohnert Park casino five years ago, patrons and acquaintances regularly have told him they want to gamble without inhaling second-hand smoke.

Sarris sought a solution, and this week Graton opened a separate, enclosed area where smoking is prohibited. It features nearly 300 slot and video poker machines, its own ventilation system, a separate entrance to the parking lot and double doors that provide a barrier from the air in the larger casino.

“I wanted to make sure there was an area where there was absolutely no smoke,” Sarris said.

Now patrons can gamble in smoke-free settings, he said, and also enjoy its restaurants and hotel that have always prohibited smoking.

The 9,000-square-foot area used to serve as the casino’s event center. When the hotel was opened in 2016, it included a 2,000-seat ballroom for concerts and other events.

Patrons using the new space Tuesday afternoon called it a welcome change.

“We appreciate the fact that they have made a dedicated area for nonsmoking,” said Joan Ehlers of Petaluma.

Her, husband Gene Ehlers, seated beside her, said the various slots and video poker machines are similar in each area, but now “we’re breathing fresh air instead of smoke.”

He added, “As usual, my wife is winning and I’m spending.”

For Sarris, the new venue is one more example of Graton doing things differently from other large gaming complexes.

Many casinos offer nonsmoking areas within the facility, he said. Graton has three sections and is keeping them, Sarris said, but often patrons in them can still smell smoke.

Casinos have experimented with prohibiting smoking altogether, he said, but the attempts “just didn’t work.”

A completely separate room without smoking, as Graton now offers, is “pretty unique,” he said.

The glass wall separating the hotel from the main gaming area also defies the trend in most Las Vegas casinos, Sarris said, where the hotel lobby “runs right into slot machines.”

A tour he led of the casino on Tuesday included the employee dining area, capable of feeding in one sitting hundreds of Graton’s nearly 2,000 employees. Along the way, Sarris noted the employees speak 37 different languages.

He ended the tour in the new nonsmoking area shortly before 5 p.m. He asked for a count and was quickly told that 93 patrons were in the room.

He deemed that a good number for a weekday afternoon.

Sarris already considers the new area a success because of one word he keeps hearing from customers.

“The word,” he said, “is ‘Finally.’”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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