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ABC7 News gets tour of new Graton Casino

October 2, 2013 6:23:10 PM PDT
The wraps began coming off a controversial North Bay casino Wednesday. It's run by the Graton Rancheria Indian Tribe and still doesn't open for a month, but ABC7 News reporter Wayne Freeman got to take an early look.

Inside, it has the look and feel of a Las Vegas casino. And, that's no surprise since the Graton Rancheria Indian Tribe has partnered with a Las Vegas casino company to build the place. Once they got approval, it was only 14 months from the time they got funding to how it looks today.

Some show-and-tells are more elaborate than others. Based on the large number of spaces in the still-empty parking lot and the large number of gaming toys, management at Graton Resort and Casino have great expectations.

"I could very easily put 5,000 people comfortably into the facility," General Manger Joe Hasson told ABC7 News.

It's the great Indian gaming gamut, Sonoma County style, due to open November 5. There are 3,000 slot machines, 144 tables, nine restaurants, a total volume of 320,000 square feet, all at a total cost of $800 million. It's the most expensive casino in Northern California history and none of it came easily.

The casino has gone up despite a 13-year battle to stop it. Opponents cited traffic, potential crime, possible drunk drivers, and the management of a Las Vegas gaming facility. Just Wednesday, they announced an appeal of the summary judgment against their latest lawsuit, claiming the casino sits on what remains state, not sovereign tribal land.

It's yet another obstacle for Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris, who prefers to see the positive. "Yeah, it stung a bit, all the things that people were saying. As I said, I'm glad to be alive to see that I've delivered all the things I promised and more, and that's important," he said.

The casino will bring 2,300 jobs to the area, some of them dealers who come from the community and have been training for months. Local construction workers have benefitted. "We actually had about 260 pieces of equipment out here throughout the course of the project," said Barry Potter with Ahern Equipment Rentals. "It's been a great year for me."

So now, the finishing touches, one month away from opening. Graton Resort and Casino will always be controversial among many people in the region, but jobs and dollars could be an effective deodorant.

"You move ahead. You don't look back. So, I'm happy that there will be people that will benefit," Sarris said.


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