Pauma Band plans joint venture with Mashantucket Pequots

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PAUMA VALLEY, Calif. - Casino Pauma is a quaint kind of place nestled in the hills of north San Diego County. But that quaintness may soon transform into a luxury $300 million resort and new casino within the next three years if everything goes according to plan.

Details of the proposed resort and casino were made public after a draft of the environmental impact study was filed Aug. 8 in San Diego County.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, entered a contractual agreement with the Pauma Band of Mission Indians to build and manage the casino.

Plans for the joint venture were crafted more than a year ago.

Initial plans call for a casino that will house 2,000 slots, and 50 table games. The 23-story hotel would include 384 rooms, 16 villa-style suites, and a spa and pool area. The resort would encompass at least 66-acres of the reservation.

The resort will also feature an entertainment venue and separate conference center.

''Our reasons for partnering with the Pequots on this project involves more than the fact that they bring with them a spectacularly successful track record with their own gaming enterprise in Connecticut,'' Pauma Chairman Chris Devers, said in a press release. ''The Pequots respect Native sovereignty and have a long history of struggle and perseverance, and we can relate to that.''

The environmental impact report study also states that the project would burden traffic, air quality, noise, and compromise public safety. But on a positive note, the report said that the tribe could mitigate these issues.

Joe Chisholm, chairman of the Pala-Pauma Planning Group, said he supports the new resort, but worries about the quality of the scenic two-lane California Highway 76. He credits the tribes for preserving the agricultural and natural beauty to the mountainous region.

''The alternative would be a sea of houses,'' he said.

Highway 76 begins in Oceanside and runs east about 52 miles to a junction at California Highway 79 near Lake Henshaw. It connects Interstate 15 travelers with the region's casinos.

Chisholm said the highway currently handles 15,000 cars per day and that number is expected to increase by 5,000 with the addition of the new resort. ''There are some improvements that Pauma has to make to the roadway,'' he said.

Pauma opened their casino in May 2001 in a metal-framed sprung structure that contains 1,090 slot machines and 22 table games. It is located about 50 miles north of San Diego. The structure will remain open for business during construction.

Once they strike a deal with the San Diego County officials, the currently unnamed casino is expected to take 24 months to complete, with an opening planned for the spring of 2009.