Graton Resort & Casino set to reopen Thursday after three-month closure
Graton Resort & Casino is set to resume business Thursday exactly three months after the local coronavirus shutdown, marking what is likely the single largest commercial restart in Sonoma County, including the first hotel with rooms offered for nonessential stays, indoor dining at an array of restaurants and a 24-hour gaming floor that can normally draw thousands of people at a time.
The Bay Area’s largest gambling destination - and one of the county’s largest private employers - is reopening its doors at 8 a.m. with a reconfigured layout that will include fewer slot machines and an occupancy limit that is about half of usual capacity.
Everyone inside will have to abide by local public health guidelines, including wearing face masks at all times, maintaining adequate physical distance and consenting to temperature checks at the door. If a person shows up without a facial covering, one will be provided, according to a casino spokeswoman.
“It’s going to be rather strict and not as much fun, but we have to do it and will be insistent on health issues,” said Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which owns the Las Vegas-style resort on Rohnert Park’s outskirts. “We’ve got beefed-up security to make sure guests follow the rules. If they give us any guff or are not going to do that, they will be asked to leave.”
Casino officials were unable to provide specifics about the new occupancy limit, but said that once it was reached, patrons would be allowed inside only when a sufficient number of guests had left, similar to many grocery stores nowadays.
Slots have been spaced out on the gaming floor and Plexiglas dividers will separate masked dealers from players at table games, where seating has also been reduced. Valet parking and live entertainment are on hiatus until further notice, and the pool, spa and fitness center at the 200-room hotel will for now remain closed.
In addition, hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout the 320,000-square-foot casino, cleanings have been ramped up and many other hotel services have been converted to touchless. Reduced bus service to the casino from San Francisco and cities in the East Bay and South Bay won’t resume until June 29.
“Part of the reason we’re doing this is we feel with COVID cases, they could be rising, and we don’t want to have to close and open again,” Sarris said. “We want to do what we can now so everything is in place so that the operation is as safe as any operation can be. I can’t and won’t make predictions, the situation is so fluid and we don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not in the business of prognostication, and none of us knows. I can say Graton Resort & Casino will always do the right thing working with the community.”
The reopening comes after a wave of casinos restarted operations last month in Las Vegas and Southern California, each applying safeguards and limits to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
River Rock Casino near Geyserville, which is owned and operated by the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, has set a reopening date of June 29.
Messages left for River Rock Casino staff went unreturned Wednesday. But many of the same safeguards and precautions appear to be in store, including reconfigured seating, temperature checks for guests and employees, and mandatory face masks for everyone while inside, according to River Rock Casino’s website.
As sovereign nations, the Graton and Dry Creek tribes are not bound by the state or county stay-at-home orders. However, Graton has worked with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ?administration and the local public health department to deploy pandemic protocols, Sarris said.
While county public health officials have not inspected the casino property ahead of its reopening, resort and health officials spoke by phone to ensure the business is managed as safely as possible under the circumstances, said Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer.
“They are putting into place the kinds of mitigation measures that the state is requiring of all businesses as they open,” Mase said. “I think they’re trying to take all of the mitigation measures seriously. However, as you know, any sort of indoor activity like that that involves a lot of people at once can be of concern, because if there’s one case, then you might get a lot of spread.”
Cigarette smoke could pose yet another challenge for casinos in preventing transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, she said. Although specific data on risks associated with smoking and the coronavirus is not yet available, she said, people who inhale tobacco smoke, even secondhand, could be more prone to infection.