GAMING Collection shopping mall off Highway 99. Boyd Gaming of Las Vegas funded Wilton Rancheria’s $35.1 million 36-acre purchase of the Outlet Collection shopping mall in Elk Grove. The project has been a long time com- ing. A decades-long battle for federal rec- ognition hindered progress. Federally rec- ognized in June 2009, Wilton Rancheria is one of 109 federally recognized tribes in California. Currently, there are 78 other entities petitioning the state for recogni- tion, potentially meaning more casinos in California’s future. As long as tribal casinos prove to be lu- crative business, private investors will con- tinue to back them. In addition to 2,000 for Thunder Valley Casino Resort and the United Auburn Indian Community, “Casi- nos have come to realize that they need to be more than just gambling. There’s a rea- son why it’s called Thunder Valley Casino Resort.” Reflecting that shift from a casino to more inclusive resort, only 2.3 percent of the plans for the Wilton Rancheria Elk Grove Casino and Resort are dedicated to the casino floor, while the other 97.7 percent includes a movie theater, retail outlet stores, pool, parking, landscape, a ballroom and conference space, spa and fitness area, and the hotel. In addition to Wilton Rancheria, Buena Vista and Enterprise rancherias have part- “TRIBES ARE MOVING AWAY FROM THE CASINO ITSELF. IT’S MORE OF A DESTINATION, WITH ENTERTAINMENT, POOLS, HOTEL, GOLF COURSES.” - Alan Wolf, division manager, Swinerton Builders slots and 84 gaming tables, the estimated $400 million Wilton Rancheria project will also include a 300-room hotel, 30,000 square-foot convention center, spa and re- tail outlet mall. That’s because a casino on its own is rarely enough. “Tribes are moving away from the ca- sino itself,” says Alan Wolf, division man- ager for Swinerton Builders. He says Swin- erton has worked with over 30 tribes to develop more than 6.7 million square feet over the past 20 years. “It’s more of a des- tination, with entertainment, pools, hotel, golf courses.” Wolf says Swinerton Builders has in- vested roughly $2.4 billion in tribal casino resort projects. “It seems there’s a lot of activity going on right now… Like with Cache Creek, we started with a bingo hall, and today we’re out there building 460 rooms for them.” Says Doug Elmets, the spokesman 84 comstocksmag.com | November 2018 nered with big names in both gaming and entertainment, and expect to open casinos in 2019. Enterprise Rancheria of Yuba County has partnered with Hard Rock Interna- tional to build a $440 million resort on 40-acres of tribal land near Marysville. The resort will include a 170-room hotel and pool, restaurants and bars, a confer- ence facility, as well as gaming. Though the tribe would not additionally comment on the project, the Hard Rock casino and resort should open in late 2019. The Buena Vista Rancheria has part- nered with Caesars Entertainment Cor- poration of Las Vegas to build a Harrah’s Northern California Casino off Coal Mine Road 40 miles southeast of Sacramento. The Rancheria broke ground in April on the $168 million project, a 71,000 square foot casino that will feature 950 slots and 20 table games. Whether keeping pace with compe- tition or responding to growing demand, even established casinos Cache Creek and Thunder Valley are physically expanding, though according to the Thunder Valley spokesman the real competitive edge lies in slots. “With casinos, the one thing that has to stay ahead is the quality of the slot machines. The technology changes, the games change, and gamblers are always looking at the newest and best in terms of slot machines,” Elmets says. He says Thunder Valley is regularly adding or re- placing slots, “because in a competitive market like the Sacramento region you have to stay one step ahead.” Earlier this year Thunder Valley com- pleted $56 million in additions and im- provements to its poker room, bingo hall, and high limit slot area, as well as adding 111 luxury rooms to its AAA Four Diamond Hotel, an award only 6.1 percent of 27,000 reviewed hotels receive. Cache Creek additionally expects to complete in December 2018 a $200 mil- lion project that will add 459 rooms, a pool, restaurant, and ballroom to its exist- ing 200-room hotel. But while new casinos continue to be built on tribal land, California placed a moratorium on existing card hall licenses in 1998. This means existing licenses can be transferred between owners within the county or city, but no additional licenses created. And since licensed card halls gen- erally operate fewer tables than casinos and more limited card games, card hall owners are exploring ways to compete in a growing market. “We’re trying to create a vastly dif- ferent experience from the casinos,” says Ryan Stone, co-owner Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights, which opened in 2014 after purchasing the city’s two op- erating licenses from the owners of now- closed Lucky Derby Casino and the Phoe- nix Casino and Lounge. Stone’s partner, Masis Kevorkian agrees.