Tribe inches closer to historic purchase of Las Vegas resort

Read full article on Indian Country Today.

A California tribe is poised to make gaming history later this month after the Nevada Gaming Control Board voted unanimously last week to recommend approval for its purchase of a Las Vegas resort.

If the state’s gaming commission green lights the sale of the Palms Casino Resort on Dec. 16, the San Manuel Band of Indians would become the first tribe to own and operate a resort in the heart of the U.S. gaming industry.

In May, the San Manuel Band, based in San Bernardino, California, announced plans to purchase the Palms Casino Resort located just west of the famed Las Vegas Strip for $650 million in cash from Red Rock Resorts, a unit of Station Casinos. The Palms opened in 2001 with a 42-story hotel, and a second hotel tower with 40 floors was added in 2005. The entire operation has been shut down since March 2020 when the state of Nevada shuttered all non-essential businesses because of COVID-19 concerns.

“It’s great to see tribes using their success (in gaming on Indian land) to diversify their economic portfolios,” said Dustin Thomas, the National Indian Gaming Commission’s director of compliance and citizen of the Mohawk and Oneida Nations. “As time goes on, more tribes are looking for opportunities off of tribal land.”

The Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut in March 2021 became the first tribe to operate a casino in Las Vegas when it opened the Mohegan Sun Casino At Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. The San Manuel investment goes a step further with proposed tribal ownership of an entire Las Vegas destination property.

“This is an exciting story,” said Daniel Cobb, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina. 

“It’s one more chapter in a much longer story of renaissance and renewal,” as tribes across the continent reclaim their culture and re-assert their sovereignty, he said.

The tribal gaming industry has ballooned since its early days. In 2000, there were 256 Indian gaming operations in the country that handled $10.6 billion in gross gaming revenue. By 2019, the last year not disrupted by the pandemic, the industry had grown to 522 operations that handled $34.6 billion in gross revenue, according to the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The potential expansion into Las Vegas comes at a busy time for the tribe.

On Dec. 13, the tribe will hold a grand opening for a new 432-room hotel addition to its casino resort in Highland, California, 60 minutes from Los Angeles. The $760-million addition and renovation will also be accompanied by a rebranding. The resort, which had been known as the San Manuel Casino, will now be called the Yaamava’ Resort and Casino.

The tribe started gaming operations on the property in 1986 with a bingo hall, and has overseen multiple expansions over the years.

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