Pechanga: A major success story for Indian gamingBy Nick Sortal, CDC Gaming ReportsJune 13, 2018 at 12:01 amFor Exhibit A illustrating how Indian gaming has soared from bingo-and-tents to hotels-and-pools, head to Pechanga Resort & Casino, just outside the city limits of Temecula, California.“Our goal here is for us to be the premier casino resort destination out there,” Pechanga GM Lee Torres told the visitors during the AGS GameOn Customer Summit last week.Notice that he didn’t say Indian casino, or “premier casino resort destination in our area.”A 13-story hotel, which doubled the room capacity, was part of the recently completed $285 million upgrade at Pechaga Resort & Casino.A recent $285 million expansion gives Torres a good argument for at least being the best property in California. The casino is certainly an option for anyone who gambles, and especially so for those who live an hour to the northwest in Los Angeles, who might be considering something less extensive than a 230-mile road trip to Las Vegas. Also, the words “parking fees” and “resort fees” are nowhere to be found at Pechanga.Pechanga’s new features include a 13-story, 568-room hotel, which opened December 22 and brought the property’s total rooms to about 1,100; more convention space; an enhanced spa; and a 4.5-acre pool complex. The improvements took more than two years to complete.“It was quite an endeavor,” Torres said. “When we looked at the opportunity of what we could do next to solidify our position, it was not what to do just in this market but in the industry as a whole.”For those who don’t follow California numbers: Indian casinos in the state took in about $8 billion last year and are the only places in the state with both table games and slots. Non-Indian competition comes from card rooms, which offer poker and player-banked versions of such games at blackjack, pai gow poker, and baccarat.Indian tribes within California began entering the casino business shortly after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was passed by Congress in 1988. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians started in the business in 1995. “It was literally tents and trailers put together, with as many coin-operated slots as you could fit in it,” Torres said.The tribal band opened a resort in 2002, and doubled its size two years later. In the recent decade, as the economy continued to grow, tourism in Southern California also grew, with wineries, old town Temecula, and a desire for (Indian) gaming.“Southern California is a very competitive market,” Torres said. “This was an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from our competition. “I’d tell you we don’t react to what our competition does. But it’s a part of that consideration.”A 4.5 acre pool complex is the focal point of the amenities upgrade at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California.The easiest decision was to add hotel rooms. “We were operating with 517 rooms previously and we were sold out every day of the week, every week of the month, every month of the year, for years,” Torres said.When higher-level players wanted to visit, that was a problem. “A guest from L.A. would come down and want a hotel room, and we’d have to say ‘we have 517 other VIPs, so we can’t put you in our hotel,’” he said.That room-booking practice was not very conducive to building loyalty with the casino’s best guests. As part of the hotel additions, Pechanga officials surveyed their guests, and decided to offer a product similar to what you’d see in Las Vegas, with better retail, and with better options for patrons to use their comps.“And the final point, which always came back to us, was the pool,” Torres said. The comments were along the lines of “Can you fix that pool? Because that pool sucks.” “It was on the third floor and most of you had bigger pools in your backyard than we had.”So in March 2018, a 4.5-acre pool complex opened, consisting of three pools, four spas, 27 cabanas, two water slides, and a huge swim-up bar. There’s also a standalone spa, more meeting space, and two new restaurants.While Vegas has leaned more, in recent years, toward the non-gaming side, Pechanga does not. “We’re a casino first and foremost,” Torres said. “But I’ll tell you we’re a casino that has really great amenities.”When IGRA was passed in 1988, Native American gambling revenues were at $121 million. For 2016, the figure economist Alan Meister reports is $31.5 billion. His new report on Indian Gaming is coming out soon, and on the cover is … Pechanga Resort & Casino.“The Pechanga band has come a long way, and we’re very proud of being part of that,” Torres said.