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California Dreaming: 10 Tribal Gaming Developments & Expansions Underway in the Golden State

Tribal gaming operations in California are always evolving and growing to draw a greater share of the market.  Most recently, the soft opening of Harrah’s Northern California Casino saw thousands of visitors rush through its doors, and dozens more eager patrons waited to enter the attraction owned by the Buena Vista Band of Me-Wuk Indians.

While the introduction of Harrah’s to the California market marks a partnership between the Buena Vista Band and Caesar’s, the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe (Enterprise Rancheria) has teamed up with gaming powerhouse Hard Rock International, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, on the $440-million Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain.

From Agua Caliente Casino Resort & Spa’s mission to draw more foodies, to Sycuan Casino’s plans to take luxury to the max, here, in alphabetical order by Tribe, are 10 new, Tribally owned developments or expansions underway in the Golden State. 

Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa is responding to the upswing in “foodies” across the nation. The resort seeks to draw clientele seeking unique food-centric experiences to its new and renovated restaurants.  

New dining options include the District, a fast-casual Mexican-Asian fusion spot, and the high-end restaurant The Steakhouse, plus a bar destination for sports fans: 360 Sports. Meanwhile, Grand Palms Buffet will undergo a redesign.

“The main reason is the food and beverage demand in society, with a lot of foodies out there, has evolved,” Kato Moy, general manager for the resort, told The Press Enterprise. “And, not only going with the times, (but also) we have a lot of repeat customers and we want people to have a different experience, more enhanced, with improved amenities and food and beverage product.”

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa Rancho Mirage

Buena Vista Band of Me-Wuk Indians

On April 29, Harrah’s Northern California Casino debuted its renovated property to the public, and an opening celebration is planned for May 17-19. Caesars Entertainment is managing the $168 million casino developed, owned and operated by the Buena Vista Band of Me-Wuk Indians.

Harrah’s Northern California Casino has created than 400 full-time jobs, while pumping $20 million into the community prior to opening. Now that Harrah’s Northern California Casino is in operations, the Tribe estimates the resort will infuse about $8 million into the community annually.

Harrah’s Northern California Casino

Cahuilla Band of Indians

In October 2018, the Cahuilla Band of Indians broke ground on a new complex to replace its existing casino. The new structure will rise between Los Angeles and San Diego on the way to Coachella Valley.  The tribe’s existing property, also in Anza, will remain open while the new Cahuilla Casino is under construction. The new property will tout more amenities, including a 57-room hotel, a fitness center, a restaurant and bar and an expanded parking lot. In addition to more slot machines and table games, anticipate a dedicated high-limit gaming area. The new Cahuilla Casino is forecasted to be completed in late 2019.

Enterprise Rancheria

The Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe (Enterprise Rancheria) is making progress toward its fall debut of the $440-million Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain. The Tribe’s partnership with the gaming powerhouse Hard Rock International, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, reflects the power of two Tribes joining forces. Last month, the Estom Yumeka Maidu of the Enterprise Rancheria received the Large Deal of the Year Award from the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) for its work partnering with Hard Rock International and the Seminole Tribe of Florida to build the forthcoming casino and hotel in Yuba County.

Morongo Band of Mission Indians

A transformational facelift is underway at Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa. The Tribe hired a team renowned for creating palaces for royalty in Qatar and luxury resorts in Belize, Las Vegas and across the globe, to design its next phase, including a 65,000-square-foot gaming floor expansion, among other additions.

“At Morongo, our goal is always to exceed the expectations of our guests by offering an unmatched gaming and luxury resort experience,” said John James, Chief Operating Officer of the Morongo Casino. “With this exciting renovation and expansion, we are upping the ante to ensure that we stay true to that principle.”

The expansion will add 425 new full-time jobs to the more than 2,500 jobs that Morongo already provides. The project will also create more than 1,000 temporary construction jobs.

Morongo officials break ground on the major expansion at the Cabazon property.

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

In summer 2018, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians broke ground on the Tribe’s first onsite, 500-room, 17-story hotel at San Manuel Casino, a world-class entertainment venue, and an array of state-of-the-art amenities, including new dining experiences, retail and event spaces, and more.

Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena told Native Business that she particularly looks forward to the 3,500 to 4,000-seat theater for big name entertainment coming to  San Manuel Casino. The new venues are forecasted to open in approximately two years.

The expansion project at San Manuel Casino will continue to bring critical jobs to the area and new opportunities for existing employees. “During the construction period, we’ll be hiring about 1,200 employees. Once the hotel is completed in a couple of years, we will hire more, for a total employee base of as many as 7,500,” said Valbuena, adding that the Tribe and its casino enterprise currently count about 4,900 employees.

San Manuel Band of Mission Indians held a groundbreaking ceremony for their new hotel and event center, July 25, 2018 at San Manuel Casino. (Eric Reed/For San Manuel)

Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians

Dine on prime rib and sip lychee martinis at Soboba Casino in San Jacinto. In addition to adding a gamut of food and drink options, the resort has expanded its gaming floor, debuted more spacious hotel rooms (200 of them) and added modern decor throughout the property. The casino revealed its new look in February.

Soboba Tribal Council Vice Chairman Isaiah Vivanco previously expressed his excitement at the resort’s capacity to host big events, such as multiple Super Bowl parties. “The beauty of this is, is that it allows us to do so much more,” he told the Press Enterprise. “We’re not confined to one space for one group.”

 Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation

Things are looking bright for the Sycuan Band, and the casino property will reflect that glitz with a new steakhouse, swanky cocktail lounge and pool bar. Sycuan Casino Resort in El Cajon is closing in on its $260 million expansion. The Tribe partnered with Las Vegas-based restaurant and nightclub specialist Clique Hospitality for the additions.

According to recent reports by San Diego media outlets, the Tribe has hit the jackpot with new restaurant Bull and Bourbon, Elicit Bar & Lounge and the posh, new Retreat Pool & Cabanas.

Bull and Bourbon opened at Sycuan Casino Resort in spring 2019. (Courtesy Sycuan)

Wilton Rancheria

The Wilton Rancheria is building what will be the nearest casino to downtown Sacramento. Construction recently commenced on the Las Vegas-style attraction, which will include 110,000 square feet of gaming space, a 302-room hotel tower, restaurants and a spa.

The Tribe is investing $186 million in the first 20 years with the City of Elk Grove and Sacramento County to support police, schools, roads and other community and social services. The new project will also create thousands of local jobs. “The project will also enable the Tribe to invest in medical care, housing and educational opportunities for its members,” Raymond Hitchcock, chairman of Wilton Rancheria, told CalvinAyre.com.

Boyd Gaming will manage the property; the partnership was approved by the California State Assembly and California State Senate in 2017—at the time of unanimous compact approval by both chambers.

“We look forward to working with them in the years ahead as we help make their vision of a world-class gaming resort a reality,” Boyd President and CEO Keith Smith has said.

RELATED: Wilton Rancheria Breaks Ground on Closest Casino to Downtown Sacramento

In early February, demolition of a former mall made way for the Wilton Rancheria’s Elk Grove Resort and Casino project.

Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

California’s stunning Capay Valley will soon be home to more hotel rooms — 400 more to be exact, for a total of 659 rooms at Cache Creek Casino Resort.

“Going from 5,500-square-feet to over 12,000 is necessary to accommodate additional guests. This is also indicative of the architectural design in the new Cache Creek Hotel. It’s a sign of things to come in how we’re continuing to improve on the overall guest experience,” Kari Stout-Smith, general manager and chief operating officer for Cache Creek Casino Resort, told the Daily Democrat.

In January, the resort’s spa, part of the overall $200 million expansion, reopened after a several-months hiatus.

The Tribe has not slated a completion date for the hotel, but it anticipates debuting the new accommodations this year.   

Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Tribal Chairman Anthony Roberts added, “It’s a momentous occasion for us. A lot of handwork and dedication have gone into this vision.”

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