Indian casinos challenge Vegas

Tribally owned casinos in California generated nearly a third of the USD 22.7 billion dropped at Indian gaming venues nationwide in 2005.

Gaming revenue for 227 tribes operating 420 gaming facilities in the United States rose 15.6% in 2005. That’s a USD 3.1 billion increase compared with 2004, according to a June 21 report by the Analysis Group Inc. in Los Angeles.

Analysis Group provides economic, financial, and business strategy consulting to law firms, corporations, and government agencies.

Alan Meister, an economist with the firm, compiles and sells the „Casino City’s Indian Gaming Industry Report“ semi-annually.

California Indian casinos generated USD 7.1 billion in gaming revenue in 2005.

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas metropolitan area generated USD 7.57 billion in gaming revenue during the same period, according to a report by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority operates the Las Vegas Convention Center and Cashman Center.

Las Vegas is on track with visitor growth, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesman Jeremy Handel said.

„Our numbers have continued to increase every year,“ Handel said. „We’re on pace with our goal of [attracting] 43 million visitors by 2009. Las Vegas is holding steady and continues to reinvent itself and attract visitors.“

In 2005 more than 38.5 million people visited Las Vegas, a 3.2% increase compared with 2004. Of those visitors, 29% were Californians, up from 27% in 2004, according to the Las Vegas authority.

Clark County gaming revenue increased to USD 9.7 billion in 2005, up nearly $ 1 billion compared with 2004. Clark County includes Las Vegas and several outlying cities.

Indian gaming hurts Las Vegas revenues, but not much, Meister said in an interview. „Las Vegas draws internationally and nationally. There’s some impact from Indian casinos, but it’s not so dramatic that it would kill Las Vegas.“

„Indian casinos can’t mimic Las Vegas‘ glitz, glamour and casinos clustering on the strip,“ he said.

Indian casinos are adding spas, hotels, convention centers and entertainment to compete, Meister said.

San Bernardino and Riverside counties are home to 10 gaming facilities, according to the Meister report.

Inland casino growth

„There’s great potential for Indian casinos to regain and capture [California] customers“ headed toward Las Vegas, Meister said.

Barstow soon will have twin casinos to take gambler dollars 156 miles west of Las Vegas.

The 300-member Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians in San Diego and the 18-member Big Lagoon Rancheria tribe in Humboldt County hope to start building a 47-acre, USD 160 million, two-casino complex near the Barstow outlets in 2007. With 1,250 slot machines each, the off-reservation casinos will generate 3,700 jobs.

Barstow residents June 9 rejected a referendum that would have halted the casinos. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed compacts with the two tribes in August 2005. The compacts are pending ratification in the Legislature.

Barstow officials welcome casinos in the economically depressed city. About 35% of the city’s population is on some sort of government assistance, city spokesman John Rader said in an August 2005 interview.

The 38-member Cabazon Band of Mission Indians plans to build an 18-hole golf course at its Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio.

The $ 10 million championship course will employ 60 people. Construction began Jan. 6 and will be completed by December.

Going beyond gaming

Fantasy Springs plans to open an 8,000-square-foot spa by the end of the year, General Manger Paul Ryan said. The casino will open a 1,000-space parking structure by April 2007.

Fantasy Springs caters to local, regional and destination visitors, Ryan said.

„Vegas is Vegas,“ he said. „California casinos introduce gaming to people who haven’t tried it and that generates trips to Vegas. We aren’t trying to keep California customers here and away from Vegas.“

Clive Clark of Clive Clark Design in Palm Desert designed the 150-acre KaH Wè aH Falls Golf Course.

The par 72, 18-hole course at Fantasy Springs will feature a driving range, putting green and water decorations. The course will measure approximately 7,000 yards and include a 295-lot housing subdivision.

The homes will be located on 90 acres of non-tribal land. The tribe will work with developer Stone Pacific Corp. in Malibu to offer home buyers memberships to the golf course. Stone Pacific will start selling homes in spring 2007.

Construction management firm Cobano Golf in Indio will build the golf course. The course is one of many changes the casino plans to undertake over the next few years to cater to gamblers, said Marc Benitez, Cabazon Band of Mission Indians second vice chairman, in a January interview.

The casino will change its marquee sign, feature plasma televisions and upgrade its food. The casino will add an 800-space parking structure slated to open in March.

The tribe employs 1,250 people at its casino.

Meanwhile, the 400-member Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians broke ground on a 344-room hotel in Rancho Mirage April 17. The hotel will be completed by December 2007.

The tribe will hire 300 people, including managers.