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Graton Resort & Casino's big moment arrives after decade of debate

  • Raquel Dogan, center, Yee Chongok, right, and Mark Ma practice dealing table games at the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

One of California's largest casinos opens Tuesday outside Rohnert Park after a decade of bitter debate.

The belief that it will revive an economically struggling Indian tribe and the fear that it will forever alter Sonoma County hover over the new Graton Resort & Casino, 340,000 square feet of Las Vegas-like glitter planted squarely on the Santa Rosa Plain.

At $800 million, it is the most expensive private development project in Sonoma County history and is expected to instantly become a powerful player in the industry.

Graton Resort & Casino

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“It's a force to be reckoned with in gaming,” said Dennis Whittlesey of Washington, D.C., a longtime Indian law attorney who has worked on numerous casino developments.

“The day they open, they'll probably be one of the three biggest Indian casinos in the country. This is really a monster,” he said.

Starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 3,000 slot machines will beep, flash and ring. Playing cards will fall softly on the felt tops of 144 blackjack, poker and baccarat tables. Cigarette smoke will rise in some areas of the casino because no-smoking laws do not apply. The huge hall will feature, unusually, clocks and ample daylight. Four full-service restaurants and nine food court restaurants will open for business.

Thousands more vehicles are projected to crowd Highway 101 and leak onto surrounding roads. Perhaps 10,000 first-day customers will arrive by car, bus and limousine, drawn by an intense regional media blitz focusing on the casino's proximity to San Francisco, Oakland and the East Bay. Multiple law enforcement agencies will mobilize to cope with the initial rush, which officials say will last a few weeks, or longer.

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