'Win-Win, Win-Win:' Update on casino given
A “Win-Win, Win-Win” for the Tule River Eagle Mountain Casino, and the city and residents of Porterville, is how Porterville City Manager John Lollis described the relocation of the casino from the mountain to the area of the Porterville Airport, Porterville Sports Park and Porterville Fairgrounds near Highway 65 and Tea Pot Dome Avenue.
Once it arrives, the new casino will bring The River Steakhouse and the Yokut Coffee House. It will also go from 1,200 current slot machines to 1,750 and from 10 to 20 card tables. In addition, the new casino will have a 2,000 seat concert venue offering two concerts a month – one in English and one in Spanish, a 700 seating capacity for a sit-down dinner, a sports bar, 70 televisions and 24 beers on tap. A hotel, pool and conference center will be added in 2023 during Phase 2.
It was all brought up Wednesday by Eagle Mountain Casino General Manager Matthew Mingrone, during the Tulare Kings Hispanic Chamber’s monthly Porterville Ambassador’s Luncheon held at La Cocina de Dona Maggie.
When the tribe decided to move, it wasn't for a marketing move or to make more money, Mingrone said.
“This tribe is not defined by the casino. We have more than 1,900 citizens and nobody is getting rich,” he said.
What's supported and funded by it is more than 40 different departments, including fire services for structures and wildlife land; and the care of the Tule River tribe.
“It’s about us. This is a people business,” Mingrone said.
Mingrone, who was accompanied by Marketing Manager Ador Cardenas, said the drought which hit East Porterville also hit them and it's something the Tule River Reservation experiences every summer. It also paused all new building.
“By us moving the casino, it now allows our people to build new homes. All our people can now build,” Mingrone said. “That’s 200 families who can move back to the reservation.”
Another reason for the relocation is the windy road to the reservation.
“It’s dangerous at times, that’s why we don’t currently have liquor,” Mingrone said. “And we get our neighborhood back. Kids can play catch in the street again. We don’t have that. This gives the tribe their neighborhood back as the move will eliminate speeding (vehicles) and potential accidents.”
The new casino guests won't see a change in how things work, he said.
“We are going to stick with the same value properties,” Mingrone said. “And we’ll be just as generous with our slots.”
Mingrone passed large, glossy photograph blowups around the room and explained the design of the new casino – which includes a basket weave pattern which can be seen on lanterns, ceiling and on the tiles of the floor.
Tribal artifacts, donated by Tule Tribe members, and perhaps a few pieces on loan from the Smithsonian Museum, will be displayed in museum-style, glass boxes. The architecture outside of the building will resemble “sitting around a campfire.”
Mingrone went on to say alcohol will definitely be sold. It was the casino’s decision not to sell it at the current location because of the windy, mountain drive. But when it comes to the law, they abide by the exact, same state rules.
“It’s all about bringing value to our guests, built to what our guests and potential guests want,” Mingrone said.
However, the casino will no longer have a buffet as it wasn't cost-efficient.
Instead, they will off the Acorn Diner which will carry buffet favorites and offer several all-you-can eat meals. In addition they will have a Mother’s Day Brunch and a Father’s Day Buffet.
The Event Center will no longer be in a tent, nor have porta-potty bathrooms, and won't be cooled using a swamp cooler.
“We will have our own structure,” he said, adding there will be proper bathrooms, air conditioning and enough room for their 1,900 tribal citizens to gather.
There are talks of what the old casino will be, he said, adding it can help provide more services to the elders, including on-site dialysis and other health services.
“Nothing is definite,” he said about the old location. “But I guarantee, it won’t stay empty.”
Mingrone also talked about staffing the new casino, calling it a challenge as some positions require referral restraints and fingerprinting.
During a recent job fair, many individuals were interested until they learned they needed to start working at the old casino.
Even so, they extended 117 offers to applicants but need an additional 300.
Before the pandemic, he said, they had 497 team members onboard at their current location. After reopening, they never went over 460, he said.
“We need 750 team members to open (everything,)” Mingrone said of the 40-acre facility.
Phase 1 will include the casino and event center and Phase 2 will include the hotel, pool, and convention center.
Mingrone talked about their partnership with the City of Porterville in reference to waste water treatment.
All cooking and consumption will use potable water, and landscaping will use treated waste water.
“By working together, we can free up a lot of well water,” Mingrone said.
From a water standpoint, Lollis said, water will be saved.
The City currently waters 100 acres twice a week at the sports complex. Half of that water will be used again to irrigate the casino outdoors and to flush toilets, reducing the city’s ground-water footprint, Lollis said. In addition, a 1 million gallon tank will treat an approximate 400,000 gallons a day.
“The City will continue partnering together (with the Tule tribe) to improve the quality of life,” Lollis said. “It’s a win-win, win-win deal.”
TKHC President Vincent Salinas said he's happy to see the casino grow and prosper.
It all began with simple conversations 25 to 26 years ago before it ever got to previous tribal and council members, said Porterville Mayor Martha A. Flores.
“This project is one of the heart that is so special,” Flores said as she talked about the floor plans and the sensitivity to numerous parts of the new casino.
“There’s a story to the casino that is a history of the tribe,” she said.
The first casino was in a trailer on a granite parking lot. Now, Mingrone said, it currently has an approximate 600 team members with 16 of them with 25 years of seniority, and eight of them who have been there for 26 years since Day 1.
Mingrone has said the opening date for the casino is scheduled for early December.