Can you find the big secret in this casino?
By Siobhan Braun, June 5, 2013
The Pala Indian reservation sits 40 miles northeast of San Diego, on 12,333 acres in the middle of the San Luis Rey River Valley. If you approach from along Highway 76, a winding, two-lane road that takes you through Palomar Mountain’s foothills, the first landmark you see is the Pala Casino. It’s a Las Vegas–style casino and hotel, and it looks garish among the modest tribal-member-owned ranch-style homes and rundown businesses. The casino boasts over 2000 slot and video machines, 87 table games, a 9-table poker room, and a 507-room hotel. It opened its doors on April 13, 2001.
If, instead of entering the casino’s parking garage, you make a left onto Pala Mission Road, you wind up in the heart of the reservation. Remnants of the tribe’s past are evident along this main drag. A scruffy mutt with matted white fur roams the graveled lot in front of a run-down fruit-and-vegetable stand. Next door is a small, paint-chipped Mexican restaurant and hamburger joint. Double-wide trailers house a beauty salon and a tattoo parlor. A few blocks farther and you come to the Mission San Antonio de Pala. A white picket fence surrounds a cemetery overrun with wildflowers. Wooden headstones tilt over the graves, etched with old tribal family names. The mission opened June 13, 1816, and it is the last California mission still in operation. Across the street sits the Pala General Store, established in 1867. Tribal elders sit on a weathered bench out in front and watch the comings and goings.
Another half-mile down Mission Road, the gaming wealth becomes evident. A sports complex and the tribe’s brand-new administration building, professionally landscaped, sit side by side.
The casino opened after California voters passed Proposition 1A, in March 2000, approving Indian gaming on reservation lands. Since Indian tribes are sovereign, the Pala Band of Mission Indians does not publicly disclose their profits, but the Pala Casino is clearly profitable. Each of its 800 or so members over the age of 18 receives an estimated $13,000 (before taxes, insurance, utilities, and other benefits) in casino earnings per month.
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