ROHNERT PARK, Calif. - The Bay Area's only Las Vegas- style casino will reopen this week, after a 90-day closure due to COVID19.
Graton Resort and Casino, located along Highway 101 in Rohnert Park, will welcome gamblers again Thursday morning.
"If we're not the strictest casino, we're way up there, one of the strictest," said Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. "You will be safe here, whether you like it or not!"
The huge Sonoma County casino is putting precautions in place.
They include temperature scans on entry, sanitizing stations throughout, social distance markings on the floors, plastic partitions, and mandatory face coverings.
"Remember we are all in this together, the virus does not discriminate," warned Sarris.
No longer will players cluster around table games or slot machines.
Only half the machines will be operating and when a player walks away, staff will sanitize the surfaces before anyone else sits down.
"We have decided there will be zero tolerance," said Sarris.
"People will have to keep their masks on, and they'll have to follow the guidelines."
Sarris says he's been frustrated to see other casinos open in California and Nevada, with precautions that are casually enforced.
At Graton, patrons can drop their masks only to eat or drink.
Extra security on the floor, and behind surveillance cameras, will be watching for those who crowd others or remove their masks.
"They will be asked politely one time to stand back or to put their mask on, and then after that they will be asked to leave," said Sarris firmly.
He admits he is also disappointed by other Indian casinos that opened early - able to do so because they are on sovereign ground.
He believes they should have followed phased-in recommendations from public health officials.
"If you don't do that you are irresponsible, plain and simple."
Governor Newsom cleared casinos to reopen in California the first week of June, but Graton delayed until it is fully prepared.
Its 3-month closure was the first in almost 7 years of operation.
"This is not, and never should be, about money," said Sarris.
"It's about saving lives and that's why we closed and that's why we took our time to re-open."
Every patron will pause for a thermoscan on entering, to verify they are not feverish.
The casino ventilation system will be running at maximum power, and electrostatic sprayers will be strategically positioned, providing a sanitizing mist.
In addition to directional floor markings, visitors will find clear plastic partitions everywhere.
At gaming tables, the plexiglass will separate players from each other, and the dealer.
"I think people will get used to it pretty quickly," said Sarris, sitting down at a poker table and slipping his hands through an opening as if he was handling cards.
"And there is sanitizer right here, for me to use when I sit down and when I'm done."
Touch-free sanitizer dispensers are located where-ever cash, chips, or cards are handled.
The hotel will open, but without convention center events or concerts.
No spa services will be available either, and no valet parking.
Charter bus service to the casino, from all over the Bay Area, will not resume until the end of June.
"I do anticipate there will be lines outside," said Sarris, noting that counters at each door will keep a running tally of how many people are in the house.
"When we get near or at capacity, it will have to be one out, one in, that's just the way it will have to be."
Nearly all of the 2,000 employees who were furloughed are returning this week.
Salaried staff were paid throughout. Hourly workers were paid until federal stimulus benefits kicked in.
Since its opening, the casino has contributed about $80 million to local government, and $15 million to philanthropic work.
It will be operating 24-7 once the doors open Thursday at 8 am.
Summed up Sarris: "We're very excited, we've worked hard, and we're a little nervous because it will be a somewhat different world."
Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU. Email Debora at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter