The new casino and hotel property in San Jacinto is scheduled to open next week ◆ By Alex Groves
A large, burgundy-colored Soboba Casino sign surrounded by light bulbs will greet visitors as they make their way to the luxe, new Soboba Casino Resort in San Jacinto. And while it will become a symbol for the new resort and a likely focal point for Instagram selfies, the sign itself is a link to the tribe’s past.
The sign was atop the original Soboba Casino, which was built in 1995.
“We felt we needed to keep a piece of our past to display and show visitors where we come from,” Soboba Tribal Council Vice Chairman Isaiah Vivanco said.
Though signs and pictures will reference the original casino and the tribe’s history, the new 474,000-square-foot resort property —scheduled to open its casino Feb. 20 and hotel Feb. 22 — is a much different experience than its predecessor. Not only does it feature such amenities as 200 rooms, several restaurants, a food court, pool and conference space, it also leaves room for future growth.
“I think it’s a natural evolution for their property to expand and add the hotel given the competitive environment and what their neighbor tribes are doing,” said Katherine Spilde, a professor at San Diego State University’s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Soboba Casino is the first casino in Riverside County to add a hotel since 2008 when Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa completed its hotel property in Rancho Mirage, though Pechanga Resort & Casino added a second hotel tower in 2017. Elsewhere in the region, Cahuilla Casino in Anza and San Manuel Casino in Highland will soon be building their own hotels.
A resort for 2019
The notion of the original Soboba Casino, a tent structure with dark carpets, a crowded casino floor and limited dining options, has been turned on its head.
The new property, located off Soboba Road between the original casino and Soboba Springs Golf Course, has the plush feel of a Las Vegas luxury resort with its amenities and on-trend decor, including rich dark woods, shiplap and subway tile in the gaming area and its dining options. The property also has more than 200 hotel rooms, some of which overlook the golf course and pool area.
“It’s a full-blown destination resort now, no longer just Soboba Casino,” Marketing Director Gene Stachowski said.
Spilde said that Soboba’s changes are part of a larger trend. She said within the last decade the amount of competition for gaming dollars among tribally operated casinos has increased, prompting those casinos to find ways to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
She said casinos have looked at such things as hotels, golf courses, spas, restaurants and entertainment space not only as a way to attract potential customers, but also to get them to stay on property longer.
“Even in Las Vegas, or other commercial jurisdictions, the gaming is usually the first and largest revenue stream,” she said. “Then, over time the gaming often times becomes eclipsed by hotel revenue or other non-gaming revenue. Combined non-gaming revenue actually becomes larger than the gaming revenue in a more mature gaming market.”
Tribal officials did not release the cost of the property, but said it was within the budget the tribe set. Other casino expansion projects have had price tags in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The construction of Pechanga Resort & Casino’s second hotel tower, events center and pool complex which wrapped in March 2018 cost $300 million and San Manuel Casino’s planned multi-phase expansion is estimated to cost $550 million and take several years.
An economic driver
“This project will definitely be the largest tourism and economic driver in the San Jacinto Valley,” San Jacinto City Councilman Andrew Kotyuk said. “It will automatically, with its opening, overtake and become the leader within the Valley, not just San Jacinto, but within the Valley, for obviously pulling in outside tourism.”
He also noted that it would be a big employer for the region.
Vivanco said construction of the resort created approximately 5,000 on-site construction jobs and those jobs accounted for approximately 850,000 man hours. There have been a total of 654 positions created within the resort, a number Vivanco said he expects to increase as it continues to actively recruit for positions.
Riverside County third district Supervisor Chuck Washington, whose district includes San Jacinto, shared similar sentiments about job creation and tourism. He says he envisions the new resort drawing customers from the central portion of the county, but also from other areas.
“Probably more to the north as opposed to Pechanga, which draws a little more from the south,” Washington said. “But I think it will be a success and I think everyone will be excited to have this new facility in the region.”
While the new resort will still be primarily driven by the local community, it will reach out to other markets as well, Vivanco said.
That’s also part of the larger trend, according to Spilde. She said Southern California casinos are increasingly seeking to draw in customers from further distances, including ones who in the past would have gone out of state.
“The Southern California region is unique in that it is, in many ways, competing with Las Vegas and so for someone who lives in Hemet or Riverside or Pasadena, to be able to have that experience within one hour of their home, they can have it more often, and they can retain those dollars in California,” she said.
A nod to the past
The new Soboba Casino Resort incorporates the tribe’s history beyond just the signage out front.
The Starbucks-esque coffee shop off the gaming floor is called Koffee Kiicha, the same name as the spot at current casino; the large screens that adorn several spots in the sports bar area are still called Sobobatrons; and many of the same games customers loved at the current casino will be at the new one.
In the hallway outside the conference space, there will be a visual depiction of the tribe’s past.
“We will have photos telling the tribe’s story,” Vivanco said. “Presenting our vision and how we got to this day specifically.”
An eye to the future
The new resort is designed to enable future growth.
The casino will still house same number of games — 2,000 slots and 32 table games — but there will be more space between them, designed so things can be easily reconfigured in anticipation of possible growth down the line.
“We have that space where we can easily adjust and plug in,” Vivanco said.
Located to each side of the casino’s large pool are two grass areas where concerts and events will be held, but could also be used later as space for two more hotel wings.
What will become of the old casino facility? That remains to be seen. Vivanco said much of the property is currently under the jurisdiction of the Soboba Economic Development Corporation.
“We’re still researching and determining what the best use for that property will be,” he said
Kotyuk said he believes that the new resort will help complement future projects the city will work on, and vice versa.
“Along Ramona Expressway, right by the tribe, we’re planning on being an entertainment corridor, so to have restaurants and other tourism destinations located around Soboba and really for us to benefit one another and to thrive and help the community overall, and of course Riverside County … It’s perfect that this is happening.”
If you go
Opening dates: Feb. 20 for casino and Feb. 22 for hotel.
Address: 22777 Soboba Road, San Jacinto.
Information: 866-476-2622; soboba.com
Reposted from Press Enterprise