News for the Hospitality Executive
|The Fresno Bee, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 18, 2004 - Gaming giant Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas and The Big Sandy Band of Western Mono Indians will announce plans today for a $200 million casino on tribal land about 10 miles northeast of Fresno.
Caesars and tribal officials have signed a preliminary agreement for the development and management of the casino. A final agreement is expected in 90 days.
The casino would include a 250- to 300-room hotel, more than 75,000 square feet of gaming space, 2,000 slot machines and about 20 gaming tables.
The 40-acre parcel that will include the development is northeast of Friant near Auberry, but officials for Caesars and the tribe would not detail a specific site. The development would be about 15 miles from Mono Wind Casino, operated by the tribe in eastern Fresno County.
"It's a great opportunity for the Big Sandy Rancheria tribal members to reach an agreement with such a bona fide and reputable entertainment management group," tribal Chairwoman Connie Lewis said in a statement.
Caesars is one of the world's leading gaming companies, with $4.5 billion in annual revenue, 29 casinos and 54,000 workers. The company's casino resorts operate under the Caesars, Bally's, Flamingo, Grand Casinos, Hilton and Paris brand names.
Robert W. Stewart, senior vice president of corporate communications for Caesars Entertainment, said company officials are excited about the association with the Big Sandy tribe and the opportunity to expand into California.
"We are always looking for new development opportunities, and we believe the California market represents a great opportunity for this company," he said. "Fresno has grown up. It's a major market within California."
Caesars also is negotiating with the Pauma-Yuima Band of Luiseno Mission Indians for a casino on tribal land in northern San Diego County. The casino with Big Sandy Rancheria is expected first.
Stewart said the new casino will be unlike anything in the area.
By comparison, the new Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino is a $150 million project with an 1,800-slot casino, seven restaurants and a 192-room hotel. Chukchansi opened in August.
"It's going to look beautiful," Stewart said of the multimillion-dollar project. "It certainly will have a full range of amenities; it's not just a gambling hall. It will have retail and first-class entertainment. You will be able to go there, have a good meal, do some shopping and see good entertainment."
There are several approvals that must be obtained for the project. The management agreement between Caesars and the tribe requires the approval of the National Indian Gaming Commission. The tribe also must amend its existing compact with the state or negotiate a new one for the project.
Stewart said the casino could be completed within two years after being approved.
Rick Contreras, Big Sandy tribal administrator, said the Caesars name and reputation will benefit the new casino.
"We are bringing something to the Valley that the other [local] casinos don't bring -- a brand name."
The new casino will carry one of Caesars' brand names.
"It could be Caesars. It could be Flamingo," Contreras said. "There will be some association to Big Sandy, but it will carry the brand name that Caesars brings."
The Caesars name also could help lure big-name entertainment acts for one- or two-night shows at the new casino, Contreras said.
The casino's exact location has not been revealed.
The Big Sandy Band of Western Mono Indians owns 380 acres near Auberry and another 215 acres of "off-reservation" land that is within its jurisdiction, Contreras said. Forty of the 215 acres is trust land that is being considered for the casino.
Trust land is Indian property administered by the federal government for the tribe's benefit.
"The exact site is still being worked on, but we expect to have that within the next 90 days," Contreras said.
What will become of the Mono Wind Casino remains uncertain. One reason the tribe is being evasive about the exact location is because it expects opposition from nearby Table Mountain Casino, operated by Table Mountain Rancheria.
Table Mountain officials did not return calls Tuesday afternoon.
Along with more slot machines -- the new casino would mean a nearly sixfold increase in the number of slot machines offered by the Big Sandy Rancheria -- the new casino near Auberry is expected to bring jobs to an area plagued by double-digit unemployment.
A source knowledgeable about the casino business said a facility the size of the proposed resort likely would have a staff of more than 1,000 workers.
What impact another large-scale casino will have on local Indian gaming centers is unknown.
David Nenna, tribal administrator for the Tule River Indian Reservation, which operates the Eagle Mountain Casino near Porterville, said he expects the new facility would have little impact on his tribe's casino. He declined to comment on what its impact might be on neighboring casinos.
"I just hope that all due diligence is being done, that the tribe is staying vigilant and open with the surrounding communities and local government," Nenna said. "Wherever Indian gaming establishments go in across the country, there is much positive impact on local communities and in job creation."
But Nenna said all of the players -- residents, the tribe and government entities -- need to communicate and "address and mitigate any issues" as they arise before completing the project.
By Tracy Correa and Dennis Pollock
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(c) 2004, The Fresno Bee, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. CZR, HLT,