News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Steven Frasher, The Business Press, Ontario, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 7--"I just want to shake your hand, for good luck," Coachella Valley resident Chris Baum said as he reached past tribal police officers to clasp hands with New York real estate tycoon Donald Trump at the grand opening gala of the Trump 29 Casino in Coachella on Sept. 28.
Baum's impression of the casino, recreated in Trump's image? "It's incredible," he said.
The name and image of the high-rolling Trump -- who, at 56, ranks 92nd on the Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans and has an estimated net worth of $1.9 billion -- sets the 150,000-square-foot Indian gaming venue apart from its competitors in the casino-rich valley (Please see profile, Page 35).
Gamblers in glamorous attire stepped from limousines while Palm Springs- based television crews interviewed the billionaire entrepreneur, demonstrating the Las Vegas or Atlantic City-style glitz associated with the Trump name.
The gala featured an appearance by Trump, silver-clad go-go dancers at the door and an evening concert by pop star Marc Anthony. The celebration marked completion of the second phase of Trump's transformation of the one-time bingo hall and card room opened in 1995 by the Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians.
Marianne Struck, of Palm Springs, is a frequent casino player and unabashed Trump admirer.
"I like the changes. There's more variety," she said.
Bright colors, a lofty interior, more games and the Trump name were the keys to promoting the casino and increasing business 25 percent above expectations, casino officials said.
"People come because of the name," said Trump, who said he keeps a hand in the design and planning of this relatively small element of his gaming empire.
The tribe chose Trump to manage its casino operation based on his larger- than-life reputation and name recognition.
"People had to drive through the valley, with all the other casinos, to get here. Our advantage is the Trump name," Tribal Chairman Dean Mike said.
"The name Trump catches people's attention," Coachella City Manager Byron Woosley said. The city and the area near the casino are enjoying increased interest as a result of the expansion.
"We're still a locals' casino but we're drawing [clients from] deeper toward Orange and L.A. counties than we'd thought," casino General Manager Mark Lefever said. A new bus service will bring in even more players.
While the tribe refused to disclose revenue figures, Trump and others said business is 25 percent above expectations to date.
"We won't be saying anything about what we expect to make before the first year," said Mark Brown, chief operating officer of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc.
Trump signed a deal in May 2000 to manage the former Spotlight 29 for the tribe, shortly after voters approved Proposition 1A allowing the use of Nevada-style slot machines in Native American casinos.
The developer helped secure $60 million in loans for the tribe to build the new venture. "They've helped us a lot," Mike said. "This is a big step for a small tribe."
"We've done a very good job and they [the tribe] appreciate it," Trump said.
The tribe will pay Trump 30 percent of the casino's net annual revenue, the maximum allowed by Indian gaming laws, tribal officials said.
The management agreement is for five years, the maximum allowed by the National Indian Gaming Commission. While all Indian casinos report revenues to the commission, neither the casinos nor the commission divulge specific financial information to the public.
Slot machines at a busy casino can each be expected to make about $400 a day, Reno, Nev.-based casino consultant Donald McGhie said.
Inland Empire competition includes Pechanga Resort & Casino, near Temecula, with 1,800 employees, 2,000 slot machines, 80 card tables and a new 522-room hotel; Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage with 1,100 employees, 1,162 slots and 57 card tables; and San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, opened in 1986, which has 1,600 employees, 2,000 slots and 52 card tables.
An Indian casino contrasts with Trump's flashy Atlantic City casinos, the Trump Plaza, the Trump Marina and the Taj Mahal, which has 5,000 slot machines and 210 table games, or Trump Indiana, a hotel and riverboat casino on Lake Michigan, but "The Donald" exercises his influence.
Top acts Trump 29 is the hotel company's first foray into California. In August, Trump purchased the Ocean Trails Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes where he plans to build a luxury housing development.
Trump used his contacts to secure current pop star Marc Anthony for the sold-out grand opening concert, kicking off the casino's new red- and blue- accented Spotlight Showroom, a 2,500-seat indoor theater that replaced the old Spotlight 29 bingo hall, Lefever said.
Headliners booked through the Trump organization scheduled to perform over the next four months include rock veterans Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon, crooners Engelbert Humperdinck, Tony Bennett and Art Garfunkel and comedians Paul Rodriguez, Louie Anderson and Bill Cosby.
Restaurants include the 24-hour 120-seat Café Capitata and the 140- seat Rattlesnake Club, opened Sept. 30, where celebrity chef and syndicated food columnist Jimmy Schmidt will whip up gourmet and organic specialities. Entrees at the Capitata range from $15 to $25 while Rattlesnake fare is listed in the $25 to $35 range.
Fast-food entries like McDonald's and City Wok have a food court all their own.
The Breathe Fresh Air Oxygen Aromatherapy Bar, operated by entrepreneurs Ron and Vonnie Brittsan, opened Aug. 29 adjacent to the main floor, where players pay $16 for a 10-minute hit of flavored oxy-gen. The casino wanted a lounge right off the game floor; the couple wanted to appeal to a regular clientele, Ron Brittsan said.
Because retired 'snowbirds' swell the local population during winter, the Brittsans hope pure oxygen will appeal to seniors.
Ripple effects In nearby Coachella, city officials worry about the wear and tear of increased casino traffic on local roads. The tribe and the city are negotiating to share costs of improving Dillon Road, the main thoroughfare leading to the attraction.
As sovereign Indian nations, tribes are not subject to local or state taxes like other businesses, yet casino patrons use local roads to reach the slot machines. The city provides water and sewer services the casino pays for.
Dealings between the city and the casino often have been strained by jurisdictional issues, but "the relationship is improving dramatically," Woosley said.
The casino "will have a ripple effect for development" in his city, Coachella Mayor Juan De Vara said.
The casino "is the impetus for development of our entertainment zone" adjacent to the reservation, he said. Under construction nearby is the private Vineyard project, an upscale 512-space recreational vehicle resort that includes the first golf course within the city limits.
The community expects contributions from the Special Distribution Fund, created by the 1999 compact between the state and gaming tribes but infused with casino cash only since July 2002, De Vara said. No casino- funded disbursements have made to date.
Casinos from the 28 major gaming tribes statewide will pay $80 million a year into the fund, which will be disbursed to offset some of the impacts of gambling, according to the state Gambling Control Commission.
The revenue has been earmarked for local impacts such as the strain on local roads and emergency services, state regulatory costs, compulsive gambling programs and tribal revenue sharing.
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(c) 2002, The Business Press, Ontario, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. DJT, MCD,