The Graton Resort & Casino in Sonoma County, which is on the sovereign land of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is hosting a 4,000-person private event on New Year's Eve. And while county health officials are not happy about it, they can't do anything to stop it.
The casino and resort has remained opened despite the fact that Sonoma County never left the state's "Purple" tier for COVID spread, and it is technically supposed to be operating at 20% capacity. Reps for Graton Rancheria say that the 4,000-person party will effectively limit capacity at the casino — with total capacity apparently being 20,000. It's not clear who gets on the guest list (presumably some repeat customers and high rollers?), and the casino says they have social-distancing and mask rules in place, as ABC 7 reports.
As of today, hotel rooms at the resort are sold out for December 30, December 31, and January 1. Rooms are also sold out for tomorrow, Christmas night. (Nothing like a night of Blackjack, booze, and Keno to get you in the spirit!)
According to announcements by the resort, the property becomes "a private venue" at 5 p.m. on December 31, and will reopen to the public at 4 a.m. on New Year's Day.
It’s not clear how the tribe is squaring the region-wide rule against hotel use by anyone but essential workers, but they say they are “work[ing] closely with the Sonoma County Public Health Officer” and the casino “continues to exceed all CDC safety requirements.” Safety measures being taken at the casino include the closure of all bars, and “walk-up alcohol service will end nightly at 9:30 p.m.” Also, “team members are tested for COVID-19 every two weeks and wear digital devices that ensure social distancing.”
None of that really sounds sufficient when you’re talking about gathering four thousand people for drinking and gambling on New Year’s Eve.
But, Sonoma County Public Health officer Dr. Sundari Mase says she’s been in touch with the casino, but can’t herself order the shutdown of this party because of the sovereign land issue. Even though most of the people who work in the casino probably live in the county, the Rohnert Park casino is not in the county’s jurisdiction.
"They are trying to do things with as much mitigation as they can, in terms of limiting indoor capacity to 20% of what's normal, in terms of enforcing facial coverings or masks and social distancing," Mase tells ABC 7.
A spokesperson for the county health department, Paul Gullixon, said in a press conference Wednesday, "It would be our preference to not have a party with 4,000 people indoors."
Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt expressed some reservation about the casino moving forward with the event, but he tells ABC 7 that if they were going to be open on New Year's Eve anyway, it may as well be this way, with some control over the guest list and capacity.
Sonoma County has been one of several in the Bay Area with extremely limited ICU bed capacity, and most of the county's ICU beds have been full in recent weeks. Cases in the county continue to rise 1.6% per day on average over the last two weeks, and the county has 78 COVID patients in hospitals, down from a peak of 80 on December 14.
Photo: Graton Resort/Instagram