San Manuel’s $9M donation to UNLV furthers Indian gaming education and tribal presence By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports February 26, 2020 at 12:01 am Minutes after I posted news of the $9 million donation to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas by California’s San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a gaming insider texted me about the significance of the financial gift. “Classy move. Further unites the commercial and tribal sectors.” UNLV is interspersed with buildings and facilities connected to gaming industry donations. The positive impact of the San Manuel tribe’s contribution – $6 million to the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality and $3 million to the William S. Boyd School of Law – was not lost on those attending last week’s announcement. The gift provides UNLV with funding to create educational programs related to tribal gaming operations and Indian gaming law. Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus, a former UNLV political science professor and the recently named co-chair of the Congressional Gaming Caucus, noted that almost every state has some form of legal gambling, including 29 states with Indian casinos. Legal gaming, Titus noted, is still somewhat misunderstood on Capitol Hill. As the representative whose district includes the Strip and Downtown Las Vegas, she is often sought out as a resource. “I often turn to the campus for advice and expertise,” Titus said. “Expanding into tribal gaming is an area where we can make a difference.” The beneficiaries of the tribe’s contribution won’t just be San Manuel’s members and employees of its Southern California casino. Tribal Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena noted that programs at the two colleges will be open to gaming and hospitality employees throughout Indian Country. San Manuel Tribal Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena/Photo courtesy UNLV “We’re always looking to find ways to mentor the future leaders of our tribe and other tribes from around the nation as well,” said Valbuena, who has held elective positions both with San Manuel and nationally for going on 30 years. In 2015, she was the first female tribal leader to be inducted in the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame. “We have to develop native people to manage our economic future, and that includes gaming,” she said. San Manuel Vice President of Public Affairs Jacob Coin said tribes are tasked with finding investments “to secure diverse and reliable government revenues for the long term.” Programs such as those created at UNLV will provide the tools for future tribal leaders. Among some of the donation’s usages, the hospitality school will incorporate Indian casino operations into existing courses and create new programs that involve tribal gaming. The law school plans to create research programs on governance, regulation, and economic development issues and offer a scholarship for a student seeking a legal master’s degree specializing in gaming, with preference given to tribal citizens and indigenous student applicants. The tribe’s flagship San Manuel Casino in San Bernardino County – roughly 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles – is undergoing a $550 million expansion to create a full-scale resort that includes a 450-room hotel tower, a 3,000-seat events center, new restaurants and other non-gaming attractions. San Manuel added a high-limit gaming area last year, and the property primarily draws customers from the populous Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. According to National Indian Gaming Commission figures, tribal casinos nationwide collected almost $34 billion in gaming revenue during 2018. More than one-fourth of the total – some $9 billion – was produced by California’s Indian casino market. Valbuena said the partnership with UNLV made sense for several reasons. The growth and national prominence of the hospitality college and the law school, Las Vegas’ status as the gaming industry’s capital city, and some lobbying she received from San Manuel Casino’s staff and executive team members who are either UNLV graduates or were trained in Las Vegas resorts helped in the decision. “Strategic partnerships and relationships are important to our tribe,” Valbuena said, following a ceremony in which she and her sister, San Manuel council member Audrey Martinez, wrapped UNLV interim President Marta Meana in a traditional blanket, signifying the relationship. Valbuena recognized the tribe’s name comes from Santos Manuel, her great-grandfather who was the leader of the Yuhaaviatam Clan of Serrano Indians. The hotel school is named for the founder of the Harrah’s hotel-casino company, which is now part of Caesars Entertainment. Bill Boyd and his father Sam Boyd founded Boyd Gaming Corp., now one of the nation’s largest regional casino operators. Adding the San Manuel tribe and its history to the UNLV roster gives the university a high-profile presence in the nation’s tribal gaming industry. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.