Aliyah Chavez
Indian Country Today

Native nations doing business in Las Vegas. That’s soon expected to be the reality.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians announced plans in May to acquire the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. After closing its deals, San Manuel will become the second tribal nation to do major business in the entertainment capital of the world.

The Mohegan Tribe operates the Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas. It opened in March 2021 and is a casino resort located east of the Strip.

Nevada is also already home to other tribally-owned ventures involving the sale of marijuana. There are five tribes who are sanctioned for marijuana growth and sales in the state. 

Related: Vegas. Casinos. Tourists. And the world's largest cannabis dispensary (Paiute owned)

The Palms, soon to be owned and operated by San Manuel, is located west of the Strip and is a sprawling facility that includes a casino, resort and other facilities.

The resort is estimated to offer 700 hotel rooms, penthouses, and sky villas, some of which include personal pools and private dining. It also advertises “theme” suites, including a “hardwood suite,” that features a 10,000-square foot private basketball court, pool table and beds to sleep 10 people.

The Palms casino includes slots, table games, video poker, and sports betting. It also serves as a major contributor to the Vegas entertainment scene, offering a theater for concerts and events; a rooftop bar and lounge; and even a full-sized movie theater complete with 14 screens.

The tribal nation says purchasing the Palms reflects a milestone.

“Purchasing a property in Las Vegas is part of our tribal government’s long-term investment strategy and plan for economic development,” the San Manuel Gaming and Hospitality Authority said in a statement. “The Tribe is committed to planning ahead for seven generations.”

The tribe is no stranger to the area, having contributed money to the law school and college of hospitality at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. It also has partnerships with football’s Las Vegas Raiders and hockey’s Vegas Golden Knights.

San Manuel purchased the Palms for an estimated $650 million, the Las Vegas Sun reported in May. The property was purchased from the Red Rock Resorts.

It was reported that the sale would likely have not occurred without the COVID-19 pandemic, said the vice chairman of the Red Rock Resorts board of directors.

"It wasn’t something we were contemplating pre-COVID … We weren’t talking about selling the Palms. When COVID hit, we reassessed our entire business, top to bottom. The San Manuel tribe came forward and presented what we thought was a great opportunity for our company to refocus our strategy," Lorenzo Fertitta told the Las Vegas Sun.

Since news spread in May, tribal leaders and organizations have praised the purchase.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association, a non-profit organization advocating for the right of California tribes to operate gaming on their lands, says the deal is a “landmark purchase” proving that California tribes are prominent entities in the U.S. gaming market.

“California tribes have a proven track record of excellence in gaming management and have become industry leaders in the past three decades,” said California Nations Indian Gaming Association Chairman James Siva.

Siva, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, added that San Manuel’s purchase will ultimately help the tribe and not outside entities.

“While this is a commercial gaming enterprise, it will be unique among Las Vegas gaming operators in that the proceeds will fund tribal governmental functions and not private investors,” Siva said.

The Mohegan Tribe says it's excited for San Manuel to join them in pursuing business in the Las Vegas market.

“Having worked together on matters of national importance for years, we know them to be a strong tribal nation with solid business sense,” said Charles F. Bunnell, chief of staff for the Mohegan tribe.

He added that Mohegan Chairman James Gessner and the “entire” tribal council are thrilled for San Manuel. “We wish them great success and what that will mean for their tribe,” Bunnell said.

The Mohegan Tribe is relatively new to the Las Vegas area, too. 

In September 2019, the tribe announced an agreement to operate and partner with Virgin hotels, then opened its doors in March 2021. This property is the ninth enterprise the tribe has worked on.

The Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas is a gaming and resort facility that features 60,000 square feet of casino space, over five acres of outdoor space and pools, various restaurants and wide areas of meeting and event spaces. The casino has more than 650 slot machines and over 50 table games.

The Mohegan Sun Casino in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy of Mohegan Sun Casino Las Vegas)
Mohegan Tribal council members, Joe Soper and Ken Davison, present a blanket to property executive at the opening of the Mohegan Sun Casino Las Vegas in March. (Photo courtesy of the Mohegan Sun Casino Las Vegas)
Actor and TV host Mario Lopez plays table games at the opening of the Mohegan Sun Casino Las Vegas on March 25, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Mohegan Sun Casino Las Vegas)

The space was shut down in February 2020 for renovations and is currently open following the construction. The facility was formerly the Hard Rock.

Both the Mohegan Tribe and San Manuel tribes are philanthropic entities and have diverse business portfolios.

Currently, San Manuel owns and operates the San Manuel Casino, a gaming facility based out of Highland, California, approximately an hour east of Los Angeles. The tribe has owned the casino for 35 years.

In 2003, the Mohegan Tribe became the first tribal nation in the U.S. to own a professional sports team when they purchased the WNBA team the Connecticut Sun. The tribe also owns and operates professional lacrosse team the New England Black Wolves.

San Manuel is a top-10 private employer in San Bernardino County and has business dealings in four hotels in California, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. In addition, the tribe owns its own congressional building near Capitol Hill in Washington.

Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at achavez@indiancountrytoday.com.

Indian Country Today is a nonprofit news organization. Will you support our work? All of our content is free. There are no subscriptions or costs. We have hired more Native journalists in the past year than any news organization ─ and with your help we will continue to grow and create career paths for our people. Support Indian Country Today for as little as $10.