Hear our exclusive interviews with Jamul Indian Village Tribal Chair Erica Pinto and Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego’s General Manager Richard St. Jean, originally aired on KNSJ Radio: https://www.eastcountymagazine.org/sites/eastcountymagazine.org/files/au...
By Leon Thompson
Photo, left: Chairwoman Erica Pinto
August 17, 2015 (Jamul Indian Village) – As the long-planned Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego nears completion following a recent topping-off ceremony, the Jamul Indian Village has elected a new Chairwoman, Erica Pinto and brought in Richard St. Jean as General Manager for the casino.
Chairwoman Pinto is the first woman elected Chair of the tribe and was the youngest person ever elected to the tribal council in 1996, at the age of 21. Her family traces its roots back as far as Jamul’s history itself—and now she has big dreams for her people and the community.
East County Magazine spoke with Chairwoman Pinto, along with the new General Manager of the casino, Richard St. Jean on plans for the new casino, in exclusive interviews on KNSJ radio. See highlights below, and hear the full radio interviews by listening here.
Chairwoman Erica Pinto
Even before she was elected to the Tribal Council Pinto served as Tribal Secretary, answering phones, recording meetings, filing forms and keeping documents. She lived for a time in the Village and attended local schools including Valhalla High School. Her uncle is Raymond Hunter, former Chairman of the Tribe.
Chairwoman Pinto has the unique combination of close family connection to the tribe, intimate knowledge of its undertakings and a young, fresh leadership style. She admits that being the leader of the tribe is “a whole different ball-game” from Council Membership but she is not shy about being the new face and voice of the Jamul Indian village in this time of intense attention being drawn to the Village.
As the new tribal leader, she has big dreams.
“My vision and my hope as leader of the tribe is to allow the tribe to become self-sufficient, economically independent, expanding our land base, able to venture out into other businesses,” she said in her interview with ECM.
She also reflected on the many changes the tribe has seen.
“Growing up in the Village was a whole different world,” she recalls. “There were dirt streets and dirt floors in some of the homes. We did not have running water or electricity until the 1980’s. I remember how happy were to have a bathroom indoors.” But she adds, “We were happy, if that makes any sense; we had each other--my brothers and me…My goal is a quality education for all and shoes to wear while going to school.”
The Jamul Indian Village website has this statement on its new chair. “Ms. Pinto’s profound involvement with the Jamul Indian Village gives her a sophisticated grasp on even the most complex aspects of tribal governance, but her real passion comes from applying that knowledge to build a better future for the Tribe and ensuring care for their elders.” (Photo, right: Chairwoman Erica Pinto signs beam at topping off ceremony for casino construction)
Chairwoman Pinto’s mother is Carlene Chamberlain, a widely respected leader who helped bring healthcare to the Kumeyaay Nation and serves on the Southern Indian Health Council with clinics in Santa Ysabel, Campo and Alpine.
“My vision is to have healthy tribal members,” Chairwoman Pinto goes on to say, “free from the worry and extreme stress we had growing up, self-sufficient and able to pursue an education as far as their ambitions will take them, wherever their paths will lead them.”
She also believes in giving back to the community.
Erica Pinto and her brother, Chris Pinto started Acorns to Oaks, a program to mentor tribal youth in life skills and encourage kids to excel in school and steer clear of drugs.
The tribe under Pinto’s leadership aspires to provide charitable assistance encompassing three areas: hungry, homeless and recovery. The tribe, in partnership with Penn National Gaming, seeks to reach out to the community through non-profits such as Madeleine Sophie’s, Crisis House and Noah’s Homes—especially the latter, a non-profit group home in Jamul where JIV can help provide employment and other opportunities for disasdvantaged residents.
“The Community will benefit as well,” Chairwoman Pinto said of revenues that the new casino aims to generate. “There will be safer roads, a state-of-the-art fire station and more than a thousand new jobs.”
Richard St. Jean, General Manager, Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego
“We are very committed to hiring locally, buying locally and supporting local businesses,” Richard St Jean (photo, center) said when he sat down to talk with East County Magazine in our studio. “Jobs are coming to Jamul.”
The new casino, built in partnership with Penn Gaming, is anticipated to bring investments, jobs and revenues to Jamul. It will be the nearest casino to San Diego as well as the Otay and Tecate border crossings.
St Jean previously served four years as General Manager of Hollywood Casino Toledo, following a 16-year career at Station Casinos during which he served as President of Native American Gaming. His nearly 30-year career has also included roles at the Tropicana Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Colorado Belle Hotel & Casino in Laughlin, Nevada, Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.
One of the main concerns of local residents is the impact of the casino on traffic along State Route 94, so we asked what is being done to improve traffic safety and flow.
St. Jean responded, “Penn National, the Jamul Indian village and CalTrans have been working very closely on the impact studies and the resulting modifications to SR 94. They have a great plan, they have been terrific to work with and CalTrans is excited to get started so that the improvements will be ready for the casino opening in mid-2016.”
The Jamul Indian Village website shows details of six roadway improvements that include widening in some places, adding turn lanes, improved signage, rumble strips and signals in and around intersections. We asked the new general manager why.
He replied, “Some of the concerns are obviously the cross-traffic movement. Turn lanes and signals are being installed to create a safer environment at the intersections to allow for greater flow of traffic. These changes should help to alleviate those traffic concerns.”
ECM asked the question on everybody’s mind: what will Hollywood Casino Jamul be like?
“The Jamul Indian village has been very responsive to the community,” Richard St Jean began. “They have reduced the height of the building, putting most of the parking underground five levels while simultaneously building the three floors above. The colors will be muted earth tones with downcast lighting. Although it looks like a big building from the road, when it’s done it will be a beautiful building that blends with the surroundings.”
Scaled down from original plans, the casino is modest in size by modern casino standards. St. Jean says, “ In fact it’s a more intimate casino supported by a food court that will partner with local restaurateurs bringing local flavors into the casino. We will have an Asian restaurant and our signature Final Cut restaurant featuring steak and seafood. Then we’ll have our beer garden an indoor/outdoor mixed use facility with local and international brews overlooking the landscape--and an entertainment lounge on the casino level where we are excited to start exploring local talent and acts.”
We asked about his experience creating a casino in Toledo from planning to full operation, as it relates to community relations. He said that although the casino in Ohio was a state casino and not a tribal casino, “There was the expected opposition from the community even though the casino was the result of an elected referendum to have gaming. There was excitement too,” he went on to elaborate. “We heard the positive and we heard the negative. The concerns about crime, design and many of the things local communities have good reason to care about.”
As a result, he says, “So we worked with the community to address their concerns and got to know some of the non-profits that needed help. We helped finance a school project, we helped a lot of fundraisers, we paid for their police dog that recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars of drug money that went right back into the police department operating funds.”
They also pitched in during emergencies.
“When there was an emergency, like the home fires nearby, we were there to help. We did it because it’s our culture not because we had to do it,” St. Jean points out. “Three years later, they [the city of Toledo] gave us a proclamation from the Mayor in gratitude for our work with them.”
Finally we asked General Manager St Jean what has been done to reach out to the community of Jamul.
“There will be safer roads and a fully equipped state-of-the-art fire station and more than a thousand new jobs,” he said, adding, “Penn National and the Jamul tribe have partnered with nearby non-profits Crisis House, St Madeleine Sophie Center and Noah’s Kids in a program we call ‘Hungry, homeless and recovery’ which we think we can make a difference. Noah’s Homes is right down the road, for instance, and since it is a group home where they sleep every night, it seemed a natural fit for training and employment opportunities for them. “
He closed with a prediction of growth for local businesses and some good news for local job seekers.
“We have seen in virtually every jurisdiction that the local businesses benefit as they grow organically,” St. Jean concluded. “From an employment perspective, which is on everyone’s mind, we hope to have our managers hired by the end of the year and a job fair early next year in anticipation of our opening mid-2016.”
Leon Thompson is a Tribal Beat reporter for East County Magazine and a member of the Chippewa tribal nation.