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Travel - The Indian Casinos

Travel - The Indian Casinos

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Published by Barry Pollack

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Published by: Barry Pollack on Oct 10, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Barry Pollack’s “Going Places”The Indian Casinos of East San Diego County
Interested in doing a little gambling, dining in a first class restaurant,lounging poolside, perhaps playing a little golf or catching a stage show? Well, youcan make that five hour drive into the desert, to Las Vegas - or you can turn southtoward San Diego and find similar action in less than half the time.I was enticed to make that trip recently by the media blitz put out byseveral newly built Indian hotels and casinos. I drove through the picturesquerolling hills of east San Diego County to experience California’s newest “resort andcasino” destinations - Barona Valley Ranch, Pechanga, and Harrah’s Rincon.Gone are the shabby tent and stucco façade gaming halls set alongside dustyparking lots, places no more exciting a gambling venue than a 7-Eleven sellinglottery tickets. Barona, Pechanga, and Harrah’s Rincon – well these are not your oldIndian casinos anymore. These casinos have lavish gaming floors, first class hotelaccommodations, and many resort amenities. And new ones are sprouting up. Onlyseven miles from the new Pechanga Casino in Temecula, the Pala Indians are nearlyfinished building their five hundred room hotel and casino.While it’s not a “Vegas Strip” yet, it doesn’t take much imagination toenvision a half dozen or more first class hotel-casino venues within 20-30 minutesof each other in this area. Big time Vegas style gambling has arrived in California.Indian casinos, by law, are permitted to have up to 2000 slot machines andthe three casino-resorts I visited have taken maximum advantage of that right.The slot games they offer are as varied as those in any Vegas casino. While crapsand roulette, for reasons that defy logic, have been forbidden to Indian gamingvenues, Blackjack and Poker table games are plentiful.
Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino (888-7-BARONA)
in Lakeside,about 60 miles northeast of San Diego, was conceived by the same designers who
created Las Vegas’ Mirage, Paris, and Caesars Palace. The Barona Mission Indianswere, until their recent foray into “gaming,” predominantly ranchers and farmers.Their hotel and casino’s design theme is meant to integrate the concept of amodern resort with their agrarian heritage. The hotel is California ranch style withan attached casino that resembles a grand barn with copper gables and a stonetower. There are 397 spacious guest rooms and luxury suites in the eight storyhotel. Standard room rates run from $79-129 with suites from $250. Each roomhas a balcony with views of dramatic hillsides or the resort’s beautifully landscaped18-hole golf course, ranked by
as one of the best in Southern California.Scattered about the property, other features enhance the ranch-style theme.There are several lakes, an old mill waterwheel, a footbridge, and a collection ofantique agricultural tools and machinery. Set off to the side of the main entrance,between the casino and hotel, is a somewhat incongruous but charming Disneyesquefairy book wedding chapel. Inside the casino, you’ll discover that same Vegas furorof flashing lights and ringing machines with players lined up at the slots and packedaround the tables. There are three excellent dining venues in Barona – a grandbuffet, a ca, and a superb elegant dining restaurant, the Barona OaksSteakhouse. There’s also a concierge lounge, a business center, a fitness center,and a pool and spa area. Only open since January 2003, the Barona already excels inservice.In Temecula, closer still to L.A., you’ll find the
Pechanga Resort and Casino(1-888-PECHANGA)
. With 522 guest rooms, it is (to date) the grandest of theIndian hotel-casinos. Here standard rooms go for $99-129 with suites starting at$279. There’s no golf course here – although they’re planning to build one. But theyoffer Vegas style entertainment. There’s a grand showroom with a 1200 seattheatre that has hosted top talent like Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Kenny Loggins,and Winona. And they have a smaller cabaret lounge where live bands play nightly.On the hotel’s top floor, in their Eagles Nest lounge, there’s an intimate piano bar
with an outdoor patio and views of the valley below. There’s a pool and spa, afitness center, a health club offering a variety of massage therapies, and 40,000square feet of convention space. They have seven restaurants with three gourmetchoices – Paisano’s for Italian food, The Grotto for seafood, and their Great OakSteakhouse. The casino floor has the 2000 allowed slots – all state-of-the-art -and sixty tables for playing Blackjack, Pai Gow, Let It Ride, 3-Card Poker, and Mini-Baccarat. One of the main advantages of Pechanga is that it’s close to a majorfreeway exit. The others are deeper in the heartland and take some navigating toget to. It’s also just a five minute drive from Old Town Temecula, a quaint littlevillage with wooden sidewalks, old west storefronts, and lots of antique shops. Andthough not as renowned as their more northern competitors, nearby Temeculawineries are worth a tasting.There is an interesting evolution to the architecture of the three casinos Ivisited. Barona’s style maintained a loyalty to its Indian roots. Pechanga’s had moreVegas grandeur but still had an “earthy” feel with lots of woodwork and stone andeven an Indian feather logo. By the time I reached Harrah’s Rincon, most referenceto anything Indian was gone. Even the casino’s name – Harrah’s - said Vegas.
Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Resort (877-777-2457)
was the smallest ofthe three casino-resorts I visited. Their casino floor, with fewer slots, was morespacious with flashier machines and more Vegas glitz than Barona or Pechanga. Itspool was the largest of the three, though none could be described as having a grandpool area. While Harrah’s has six restaurants, all are open to the noisy casino floor.There’s just no quiet or intimate dining possibility here as is offered at Barona andPechanga. Like Pechanga, Harrah’s has entertainment venues - an outdoor concertpavilion that can accommodate more than 1000 and their Oasis lounge with localtalent and bands performing on weekends. But Harrah’s has only 201 rooms and youcan’t make a reservation to stay here. Since they opened last year occupancy hasbeen nearly 100%. They provide all their rooms as “comps” to their loyal players.

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