Tribal casino set to open |

Tribal casino set to open


PALA, Calif. (AP) – An Indian tribe prepared Tuesday to open the state’s first new permanent casino complex since last year’s passage of an initiative legalizing tribal gambling.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians scrambled to finish its casino ahead of a May 15 deadline for tribes to begin operating slot machines, despite signs that regulators may extend the date.

”We couldn’t take the risk,” said Jerry Turk, the Pala project manager. ”If you lose (the slot machines) you’ve got nothing. That’s why other projects are also rushing along.”

Pala expected more than 3,000 guests and customers for Tuesday night’s opening of its 185,000 square foot casino, set amid hills, pasture and orchards in northern San Diego County.

The $115 million, 24-hour Pala casino is among a wave of similar projects expected around California now that tribes can legally offer Nevada-style slots and house-banked card games because of Proposition 1A, which voters approved last year.

Other new casinos include a $90 million project of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Rancho Mirage, 120 miles east of Los Angeles, scheduled to open Friday.

Pala, and three others planned nearby, will tap into a market of some 2.4 million adults from San Diego to the suburbs of Los Angeles. The Pala tribe plans to spend $20 million for marketing in its first year, Turk said.

In the year since Proposition 1A’s passage, a number of tribes that already had more limited gambling expanded their operations. Others have built temporary structures while they seek financing for more ambitious projects or finish construction.

But the 800-member Pala is the first tribe to go from zero gambling to having a completed permanent structure with all the trappings of a Nevada casino, including six restaurants and a 2,000-seat theater for live music alongside the gaming floor.

”It was a long time coming,” said King Freeman, the vice chairman of the tribe, which operates the casino in a partnership with Turk and Anchor Gaming of Las Vegas.

Under gaming agreements that 62 tribes signed with Gov. Gray Davis, slot machines had to be in operation by May 15 or they risked losing the machines.

But the California Gambling Control Commission is still developing rules for casino operations and is likely to extend the deadline, said Robert Traverso, the agency’s interim director.

Still, without a formal decision to suspend the deadline, tribes will rush to finish construction on projects around the state, said Susan Jensen, a spokeswoman for the California Nations Indian Gaming Association. ”The majority of tribes are still sticking with the May 15 deadline,” she said.

On the Net:

Pala Band of Mission Indians:

California Nations Indian Gaming Association:

AP-WS-04-03-01 1819EDT

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