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Graton Rancheria chairman Greg Sarris filled with gratitude

  • Greg Sarris, Tribal Chairman of the Graton Rancheria, greets customers at the opening of the Graton Resort and Casino Tuesday Nov. 5, 2013 in Rohnert Park. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

As the first crowds streamed through the doors of the Graton Resort & Casino on Tuesday morning, Greg Sarris was there to greet them with a wide smile on his face. He had been on site since 5 a.m. taking care of last minute details.

The public opening of the $800 million gambling palace came after 10 years of lobbying, legal wrangling and construction, at times in the face of stiff opposition.

Sarris, the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who oversaw every aspect of the casino down to the color of the carpets, said he felt grateful the doors were open.

Graton Resort & Casino Opening

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“At the same time with that gratitude, with the new opportunity with the opening, is an overwhelming sense of responsibility, a responsibility that we continue to do the right thing with this opportunity that we have,” Sarris said.

Sarris spoke during an interview 15 minutes after the casino opened. He said that the tribe can now turn its attention to meeting its obligations to the city of Rohnert Park and Sonoma County, including paying as much as $25 million a year to preserve open space.

“The whole thing is going to position us, hopefully, to become keepers of the land once again and to continue what we already started with our legal and binding (agreements) with the county and with the city of Rohnert Park,” he said.

“That sets a blueprint for what's important, to mitigate all the effects of the casino. But number two is to position ourselves to be keepers of the land, and that's that $25 million that we'll give each year. That's really important to us. This has never been about shiny lights. It's never been about a new color TV. It's been about the opportunity to do the right thing,” he said.

Sarris said he is happy with the casino's open, spacious design.

“This is the first casino in the world that has sky lights. It's the first casino where you can always see where you're going,” he said.

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