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Tribes Look Beyond Slot Machines For Future Income

An e-Sports tournament is played  at the KeyArena in Seattle, WA.

Above: An e-Sports tournament is played at the KeyArena in Seattle, WA.

Casinos have brought decades of prosperity to many Native American tribes in San Diego County and across the nation. Now, tribes are looking to expand their economic opportunities with expansive resorts, online gaming and eSports.

Casinos have brought decades of prosperity to many Native American tribes in San Diego County and across the nation. Now, tribal nations are looking beyond slot machines to expand their economic opportunities.

“The next generation is not that crazy about slot machines,” said Victor Rocha, a Pechanga tribe member and a leader with the National Indian Gaming Association. “Instead of trying to change the people, the industry is trying to change to meet the demand.”

Nearly 7,000 people from 184 tribal nations are collaborating on new economic opportunities during the group's annual conference, from April 10 to April 15 at the San Diego Convention Center.

Slot machines are still paying off for now, said Rocha, but upcoming generations are less interested in games that depend solely on luck. That is why some tribes are looking into electronic sports, known as eSports. The video game competitions are held in large arenas with big screens, pitting teams of gamers against each other.

“You know, 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 people showing up to watch people play video games,” Rocha explained. “Now to our “Boomer” minds this doesn’t make sense, but to this young generation who were born with iPhones and video games it’s perfectly logical.”

Hosting e-Sporting events could pay off for tribes, Rocha said.

“And they’re actually starting to take bets on some of these games, little small bets,” he added.

Other promising industries include online gaming, cannabis and expansive resorts.

“California has become this great laboratory where the tribes are trying everything because we have the opportunity, we have the clientele,” Rocha said.

Rocha’s Pechanga Tribe in Temecula is investing $285 million in a hotel expansion.

“Another 500 rooms, four acres of pools, spa,” he described. “But not one new slot machine.”

Sycuan Casino in El Cajon is also constructing a new hotel with a multi-acre pool complex.

"It’s all about staying ahead of the tribal competition,” Rocha said.

“Southern California is the home to probably more tribal casinos in a 100-mile area than anywhere in the country,” he said. "We’re friendly with each other. We’ve all been through the mill together, but there’s competition too.”

San Diego County is home to 18 tribes and approximately 20,000 Native Americans.

The Jamul band of Kumeyaay Indians is the most recent tribe to get into the casino business. The Hollywood Casino in El Cajon opened six months ago.

“And It’s absolutely bringing more prosperity, more opportunity for the tribal members,” said Ken Perez, a Jamul tribal gaming commissioner. “Jamul is really taking its place with the other big boys out there.”

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