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Expansion of Four Indian Casinos in Region on Feb. 5 Ballot

The 10 American Indian casinos located in San Diego County do roughly $2 billion of business a year. But phenomenal growth, as enjoyed in the past, will not be in the cards for 2008.

“I think it’s going to be more of the same, but muted,” said Randolph Baker, who chairs the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming at San Diego State University.

Baker says he would expect 3 percent to 5 percent growth in the industry during 2008. That is, if the economy does not worsen significantly. A recession would affect casino patrons’ discretionary spending, Baker says.

One big event affecting the future of California casinos happens early in the year. California voters will decide on four casino expansions when they go to the polls Feb. 5.

Proposition 96 concerns a plan to significantly expand the number of slot machines operated by the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation. Sycuan operates a casino on its reservation in a valley east of El Cajon.

Under a new compact negotiated with the state, Sycuan could operate 5,000 slot machines, up from its current 2,000, in up to two casinos, and would send at least $20 million yearly to the state general fund.

The ballot measure lets voters accept or reject such a plan, which would be in effect through 2030.

The three other ballot measures deal with expansions to the Pechanga, Morongo and Agua Caliente casinos near Temecula, Cabazon and Palm Springs, respectively.


Court Challenge?

The legal waters here are muddy, however. The federal government OK’d the compacts Dec. 19. Attorneys on both sides of the issue are debating the significance of federal approval.

Baker, in a Nov. 30 interview, also raised the possibility that the results of the Feb. 5 election might be challenged in court.

For other American Indian tribes in the region, 2008 will be a year that mixes building with long-range planning.

– & #8201;In inland North County, operators of the Pala Casino Spa Resort plan to embark on a $100 million construction project, expanding the casino’s main building and adding more parking. The resort also plans changes to its hotel rooms.

– & #8201;Nearby in inland North County, the Pauma Band of Mission Indians is working toward replacing its temporary casino structure with a $300 million casino and hotel complex.

– & #8201;With a freshly renovated and expanded casino, the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians is now working with an architect on designs for a 160-room boutique hotel on its reservation near Valley Center. San Pasqual operates the Valley View Casino. The hotel may not be built until the end of 2009. Additionally, the San Pasqual band has embarked on a new business venture. Under the name Casino Development Management Services Inc., the organization wants to consult with other tribes on casino-building and operations.

– & #8201;The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, which has a reservation near Alpine and Interstate 8, is evaluating plans for a hotel and a second casino, which could cost $800 million. The development is tentatively scheduled for completion by 2012.

– & #8201;Farther out Interstate 8, the Golden Acorn Casino & Travel Center plans to begin construction on a 150-room hotel. Chief Financial Officer Gary McMullen said in December that the tribe was working on financing for the project.

– & #8201;The Jamul Indian Village plans to build a casino near the town of the same name, but with a new twist. The tribe plans to use what government officials call “Class II” devices. Tribal Chairman Bill Mesa says that by the end of 2008 he hopes to be under construction on a facility less than half the size of previous plans. The move to Class II devices will let the tribe move forward in a timely fashion, Mesa says.

Though they resemble slot machines, Class II machines are really a form of bingo. Players compete against each other instead of the house. The state has more leverage over tribes operating conventional slot machines (called Class III) than over tribes operating Class II machines.

The downside to installing and operating bingo machines is that many gamblers prefer slot machines.

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