Soboba Breaks Ground for Replacement Casino

It has been a long time coming but the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians finally had the opportunity to thank everyone who has patiently supported its endeavors to secure the Horseshoe Property with the intention of building a replacement casino and resort.

February 28's invitation-only groundbreaking ceremony brought together Soboba tribal members, administrators, city and corporate officials and hundreds of guests to witness this milestone in the history of the tribe.

Tribal Administrator Michael Castello welcomed the crowd and introduced Steven Estrada, Chairman of the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians to provide a prayer in his native language. Translation for part of it was: "it is a good day to bring blessings upon this land and give the Soboba people strength as they proceed."

Estrada was then joined by Joe Ontiveros, director of Soboba's Cultural Resources Department, and other bird singers to share songs with the crowd that gathered at the future site of the complex near Lake Park Drive and Soboba Road in San Jacinto.

Tribal Council Chairman Scott Cozart spoke about the great mentors that helped get the tribe to this day, starting with bingo halls that he helped vote for back in the day. Elders such as Marian Chacon and Benny Helms were cited as always supporting what was best for all tribal members.

He said the 1987 Cabazon Decision allowed for Vegas-style gaming to be conducted on the reservation and the rest is history.

"How far we have come since then is amazing," Cozart said.

Tribal Council Vice Chair Isaiah Vivanco, treasurer Kelli Hurtado and Sergeant at Arms Rose Salgado were also at the celebration to recognize all the tribal elders and members.

"This is for you and our future," Vivanco said.

He introduced dignitaries including members of the Soboba Foundation, tribal council members from other Southern California tribes, school board members, Hemet and San Jacinto unified school district representatives, local law enforcement and Hemet and San Jacinto city council members.

San Jacinto Mayor Scott Miller gave an impassioned speech, presenting Cozart with a certificate of recognition honoring this special moment and speaking directly to the Soboba people.

"Your rich history continues to be an integral part of this community," Miller said. "We are here to honor the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians. Many who served before you only dreamed of this day. God chose this day and this leadership."

"Today, you are not just breaking ground for the casino, you are breaking ground for your futures, your children and your children's children – they are the ones who will help lead our country," he said. "Long after all of us are gone, your legacy will go on. This center will become the diamond of this valley – a place to enjoy, refresh and relax. You are helping fulfill the purpose of this valley – for people to get away and rejuvenate their souls."

"I am honored to be mayor at such a historic time – it is a blessing from God," Miller said. "I'm here today to set aside our problems of the past, tear down the walls of separation and extend a hand of friendship. Today is a sign of healing and hope to all those in the San Jacinto Valley. We are coming together in the covenant of friendship."

A slideshow presentation allowed guests to see how the people of the Soboba Reservation have worked hard to be self-sufficient since being established by Executive Order on June 19, 1883.

The tribe has always placed a strong importance on education and for many years has maintained a preschool and Noli Indian School that teach Native American culture alongside academic curriculum.

A decades-long battle to reach a water settlement after the reservation's natural springs and water supply were compromised was resolved in 2008.

Construction of new and improved buildings have been a constant source of pride for tribal members. A sports complex, new tribal administration building, new preschool and family services building and country club improvements have been able to serve the community for years.

In their continued effort to remain self-sufficient, the Soboba people established their own public safety, fire, parks and recreation, public works, information technology, environmental and cultural resources departments on the reservation.

The Soboba Foundation was established in 2010 for the tribe to give back to the community through scholarships, sponsorships and grants. It has funded thousands of projects and events, including the annual Soboba Gives Back toy drive that supplies thousands of Christmas gifts to needy children each year.

Ever since the first Soboba Casino was built in 1995, it has been an entertainment destination and employment resource for surrounding communities. It has also enabled tribal members to benefit from gaming revenue.

The improved facility promises to capitalize on what the tribe already has by adding more amenities such as a hotel, shops and an entertainment venue. This will not only bring more visitors to the beautiful San Jacinto Valley but will create hundreds of jobs for locals, providing a huge economic boost for the area.

Soboba Casino General Manager Scott Sorois said the opportunity to have a replacement casino would not have been possible without the support of everyone in the whole chain.

"We have assembled a high-performance team who will move this project forward and has the type of momentum to get it pushed through to completion," he said.

Salgado quoted Deuteronomy 19:14: "You shall not move your neighbor's landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the lord your God is giving you to possess."

She added that the heavy rains of the previous day were the Creator's way of cleansing the land for the groundbreaking.

"We must give gratitude for all our ancestors before us and for those who fought for our rights," Salgado said. "We must acknowledge all the tribal members and elders who gave us perseverance."

The facility is set to open in the summer of 2018. Updates can be found at https://www.soboba-nsn.gov/casino-replacement-facility-information-center.