California casino workers receive unexpected gift from owners

By Mia Chapman Updated
California casino workers receive unexpected gift from owners

Instead of taking and paying customers, a California casino has surprised its workers with an extra special gift.

To thank staff for pressing on with their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians presented more than 70 tribal government and casino workers with one-time compensation cheques for their services performed in 2020 amid the pandemic.

The council approved a $10 per hour supplemental back pay award for essential employees who continued working during the pandemic’s harshest and most dangerous days.

Cheques ranged from a few hundred dollars to as high as $19,000.

The “Hero Pay” cheques represented retroactive pay for hours logged during the initial 12 months after the March 2020 onset of the pandemic.

The tribe said the payments were funded by the disbursement it received from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed by President Joe Biden in March.

Casino features only gaming machines

The Augustine Casino is located roughly halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, just outside Palm Desert.

The gaming venue is less than three miles from the Empire Polo Club, which serves as the annual grounds of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

The Augustine Casino has approximately 740 slot machines.

The tribe does not offer table games, despite being able to do so under its Class III gaming compact with the state.

The revenue arrangement also requires the casino to share 17 per cent of its gross gaming revenue with the state in a position of up to 1000.

It has kept its gaming positions under 751 seats.

The tribe’s compact mandates that the casino pay the state $900 annually per gaming position up to 750 positions.

That rate more than doubles to $1950 per position for 751 to 1250 total gaming seats.

Along with its lone casino, the Band owns Synergy Blue, a gaming manufacturer that specialises in skill-based gaming.

Tribal officials said the Band of Cahuilla Indians is one of the smallest federally recognised tribes in the United States and that their workers are more like family and the tribe treats them as such.

According to the tribe, 25 per cent of the casino workforce have been at the property for more than a decade.

Ten per cent of all staff have been with the casino since its opening nearly 15 years ago.

During the casino and tribe’s most difficult time in recent years, Augustine Chair Amanda Vance said the employees went the extra mile to combat the virus.

“Our team members were on the front lines for us, working hard to keep us all safe, to keep the business running and to protect our guests,” Vance said.

“They deserve our deepest gratitude and we are thrilled to be able to compensate them for their dedication.”

The Augustine Casino closed in mid-March 20202 and remained closed until June 2020.

Vegas casino sold for $650 million

In May, a Las Vegas casino was purchased by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for $650 million.

The sale of the Palms Casino Resort from Red Rock Resorts represents the biggest purchase by a Native-Indian tribe in the US gambling capital.

The tribe operates the San Manuel Casino in Highland, California, near Los Angeles.

That property has been open for 35 years and is undergoing an expansion of its casino and hotel.

The Palms sale, announced Tuesday, is expected to close later this year.

Indian gaming has become a huge business in the United States, reaching nearly $35 billion in 2019 before the pandemic crippled travel and spending.

There are some 245 tribes operating casinos in 29 states.

And while tribes have long been expanding beyond their traditional reservations, they’ve only recently set their sites on Las Vegas.

More than 45,000 cars a day travelled to Nevada from Southern california in March, about one third of all auto traffic to the city, creating a marketing opportunity for the new owner.

San Manuel chief executive officer Laurens Vosloo said in an interview that the tribe has been seeking to diversify, adding an event centre that will open this year in California and looking beyond the state for investments.

The tribe will keep the Palms name for now and target a customer similar to the bread-and-butter gambler it attracts in California, not the younger, nightlife-driven clientele the property had embraced, he said.

“We have maybe a little different strategy, that caters to a different crowd, more of a gaming crowd,” Vosloo said.

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