Betting on Graton - Page 3

Newest casino targeting Bay Area residents promises to share the wealth with workers and people of color

Placido Lopez, a dealer at Graton and a member of the Graton Rancheria tribe, awaits customers on opening day.
Yael Chanoff

The Oct. 22 death of 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy Andy Lopez at the hands of Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus sparked weeks of protests in Santa Rosa, including a march Oct. 29 attended by hundreds from the East Bay and San Francisco.

"There was a 13-year old boy who was just shot up here. We now have the power to put people in and out of office, and we will," Sarris said in a conversation last week. He declined to specify which officials might be a target of such a campaign, but said that "it's not just police and sheriffs, it's elected officials."

"We can elect a spotted Chihuahua into office if we want," Sarris said. "Look at all the money we're going to have."



Sarris reiterated those ideas at a Nov. 3 meeting of the North Bay Organizing Project that was focused on Lopez. He then presented Lopez's family with a check for $8,000.

"From day one, the only reason I got into it is to create something here that will benefit Indian and non-Indian alike," Sarris said. "I'm especially concerned about people of color."

After the genocide of Native Americans and centuries of oppression that followed, getting wealth back into indigenous communities is a complicated task. And with Graton, Sarris may achieve it for a tribe made up of descendants of those who first populated Novato, Marshall, Tomales, San Rafael, Petaluma, Bodega, and Sebastopol.

"It's Thanksgiving again. But this time, we're keeping the turkey," Sarris said. "We'll share it, but we're keeping it."

The people slogging up 101 this week were financing more than a glitzy new casino. Graton's profits could fund serious progressive causes in Sonoma County. But first, its Bay Area customers will need to empty their pockets.

Someone has to lose for the house to win. Which demographics will most frequent Graton remains to be seen. One indication could be the clientele of Kenny Express.

"The seniors that are retired, they go on a daily basis. We also have people who work during the day and take the bus at night," Medrano said. "They're mostly Filipino, Hispanic, Chinese."

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