Barona goes state of the art with Nevada-style slots


LAKESIDE, Calif. - The casino operated by the Barona Band of Kumeyaay in San Diego County has received 717 Nevada-style slot machines in the first phase of a makeover made possible by the passage of Proposition 1A last March.

Barona is the first of several California tribes to receive the machines under the new rules. Before Proposition 1A it was illegal for tribal casinos to operate such machines.

Another new feature, a direct result of the changed rules, are card games that rely on a "house bank" rather than "player pool." This means payoffs will be higher for players as winnings are not limited to money in a given game but disbursed from funds of the entire casino.

Barona casino management says the casino, located about 35 minutes from downtown San Diego, averages 7,000 customers a day and they expect this number to increase as a direct result of the new operations rules.

After Proposition 1A was passed, 60 tribes negotiated a compact with Gov. Gray Davis to allow for Nevada-style gaming, including the slot machines and "house bank."

Lee Skelley, assistant general manager, says the tribe acquired rights to 943 machine licenses in a drawing last month in suburban Sacramento. Barona's1,057 existing machines were "grandfathered" in.

"We should have the first phase of the project done in about two weeks," Skelley says, adding, "We've certainly come a long way."

The tribe has come a long way since 1992. An Associated Press story reports the Barona casino was raided that year by several law enforcement agencies that confiscated several hundred Nevada-style gaming machines - now legal under the new rules.

There have been innovations since that time. In one, Barona's International Gaming Technologies machines will be linked to other tribal casino machines across the country to create a progressive jackpot.

Regular visitors to American Indian casinos around the country may recognize the progressive games as Megabucks, Quartermania, and Wheel of Fortune. The machines are distributed by Sodak Gaming Inc. of Rapid City, S.D. Other Sodak games Barona will display are Triple Play Poker, Five Play Poker, Ten Play Poker, Multi-Poker Progressive and Double and Triple Diamond and Five and Ten Times Play.

Linda Devine, Barona sales and marketing coordinator, says Barona used a unique method to find out what kind of machines and games to bring to the casino. About 60 Barona customers were taken to Las Vegas and given money to gamble with. "We then questioned them thoroughly about which machines and games that they liked and which they didn't."

Devine also says what makes this endeavor so unique is the fact a small Southern California tribe brought together three competing vendors to acquire state-of-the-art technology.

Some innovations will include coin-less slot machines that operate on a voucher card players can transfer from machine to machine. When it comes time for a payout, all they have to do is take it to an attendant on the floor. The attendant will use an infrared palm pilot to scan the card and pay the customer.

The tribe also has big plans for later phases of the casino expansion. An 18-hole golf course is expected to open in October, followed by a new hotel and casino slated to open sometime next year. The existing casino will then be converted to new tribal administrative offices.

Barona tribal chairman Clifford LaChappa says that while he's not sure of exact figures, there are estimates of up to an average of 14,000 people a day once the expansion is complete.

"The sky's the limit," LaChappa says. "We're going to become a full-service resort where people can come and spend the weekend and do a wide variety of activities beyond just gaming."

LaChappa says half of the 400 Barona tribal members are employed in tribally run enterprises and that more than 1,600 people total are employed by tribal businesses. He says Barona businesses have brought a host of positive economic changes to the tribe.

"They put Indians out onto reservations and told us to survive. I honestly think that they thought we'd just die. With gaming as our mechanism, we've learned how to survive."