Eagle Mountain Casino plans to move down from the Tule River Reservation and build a new casino near the Porterville Airport.
But the plans don’t end there. The new site will be upgraded to a casino & resort boasting a 250-room hotel, a 29,000-sq./ft. convention center, a 1,700-seat entertainment center, a wastewater treatment plant, and a new fire department.
The proposed relocation comes after concerns from both casino management and the Tule River Tribe.
The largest concern for the tribe is the amount of water consumed by the current casino, which uses up to 40,000 gallons of water a day.
There are currently 200 tribe members who can’t live on the reservation because there isn’t housing. Multiple families are forced to live in one home.
Moving the casino elsewhere could alleviate that issue by freeing up water for around 80 new homes on the reservation.
There are also plans on expanding the Tribal school site.
Expansion on the Tule Reservation has been a major hurdle because of the high granite content on the reservation. Before any construction project can begin a site needs to be leveled first, a costly endeavor ranging hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to Neil Peyron, Chairman of the Tule River Tribal Council, the reservation intends to refit the existing site instead of undertaking expensive construction projects.
“The plan is when the casino relocates, the administration, the housing authority, and our medical services will move into [the current casino site] which is bigger so we can expand our services. And the buildings down there will be used for youth services and elder services more closely related to the school and to the gymnasium like our cultural programs.”
The move could also help prevent altercations with locals. The amount of traffic the casino receives on a daily basis poses a risk to residents not only on the roads but also on private property.
Some casino goers misinterpret the reservation as a place of tourism, when in reality it’s sovereign land with its own set of laws and government. Such misunderstandings often lead to incidents of trespassing and harassment.
From the casino management side, concerns are more about profitability and safety.
Anyone who’s ever visited the Eagle Mountain Casino knows the winding road to and from the reservation can be dangerous. The casino has even riffed off the perilous journey to the slot machines by selling t-shirts that read “I survived Tule River Tribe of California Road to Eagle Mountain Casino.”
Funny, but the casino is aware of the serious danger the road holds for its clients–so much so that the casino has a strict no alcohol policy to discourage drunk driving.
Moving the casino near the Porterville airport will not only make the drive shorter and safer, but it will also allow the new casino to sell alcohol. Profits are likely to increase via the new hotel and convention center as well.
The increase in profits is not just good for the casino and its employees. A prosperous casino, means a prosperous reservation. The Tule River Tribe gets a whopping 95% of its money from casino profits, money that is used to fund all of the programs designed to support schools, the elderly, and upgrades to water treatment plants that can no longer keep up with the amount of contamination found in the reservation.
But the beneficiaries don’t end there. The city of Porterville will also get a piece of the pie.
The convention and hotel space provided by the new site could bring more consumers to the Porterville area, especially during large events like the World Ag Expo.
“We haven’t really had any opposition,” Project Manager Matt Ross explained. “Any time we have, it’s been lack of information or misinformation. Some folks were worried this may impact some of their businesses like holding weddings and things like that…And then they started looking and realized, ‘Wait, actually we can have more weddings and they can actually have a spot to stay.’ So there’s synergy rather than competition.”
Homeowners will also see benefits from the casino’s move. The new fire department on the proposed site can provide more emergency service coverage in the southwest side of Porterville and effectively lower home insurance costs in that area.
Local businesses can also rest a little easier because the new fire department will likely contain a ladder fire truck designed to reach higher floors typical of commercial buildings.
It’s a valuable asset that will keep businesses safer and potentially lower insurance costs as well.
Furthermore, the casino and resort will have a net-zero effect on the local water system because of the water treatment plant included in the project. In other words, the casino will have little to no impact on the local domestic water system because the tertiary plant will clean water from the casino to the level it can be used to irrigate local lawns and crops.
During construction, hundreds of temporary jobs will be created. And thanks to the additional facilities planned, 400 new permanent jobs will be up for grabs to staff the casino, restaurant, convention center, and hotel.
“The biggest [increase] is obviously going to be in the departments we don’t have,” explained Eagle Mountain Casino General Manager Matthew Mingrone. “I don’t have anybody to work in banquets and the convention space…Nobody to run a hotel, whether it’s front desk, management, housekeeping, supervision, engineering.”
At the moment, casino management is holding off on recruitment because there’s still a degree of red tape preventing the project from moving forward.
Just in the county level alone there are negotiations that need to be made regarding repair costs of a road that runs along the proposed site. These costs are estimated at around $10 million. The debate with the county revolves around how much of the cost will be paid by the casino and when.
Then there’s the pending approval of the gaming trust from the federal government.
Casino management hopes the project has been reviewed. But when the approval will come through is anyone’s guess, especially in a government that struggles to stay open.
Finally, the casino will have to receive approval from California Governor Gavin Newsom.
“We got our fingers crossed,” Mingrone explained. “When everything is approved and we have everything ready to go, the Tribal Council will have to go back and sit with the governor to negotiate a new compact, which is an agreement having to do with the casino.”
Construction isn’t expected to begin until Summer of 2020.