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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.



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Casino Construction

It sounds like the Tribe could become a asset to the community. I grew up in the area and remember how hard it was to find a job locally as a teen and young adult. I ended up driven miles to work at times. Maybe jobs will be a good thing. Maybe when the tribe prospers if they do they will be less self centered and benefit those in the area who need it as many other tribes have. When is the right time to make an effort to stop new development in communities? The no growth effort is often led by those professing to be protecting the area. My question is why was it alright for these people to have homes built or purchase homes and add their trips to the roadway if they have a problem with the traffic they contribute to it. Did their activity not impact the area but if I visit the Casino or work there in the future it will be somehow detrimental? It seems hypocritical to me. This particular location is on a state highway it seems like a place I would be hard to convince that a casino or other business would be such a problem. Maybe we should have stopped development years ago or maybe next year so I can have a chance to move their and build a house before those that will ruin the area can come.


Shame on you Hano for bringing up racism! It doesn't have anything to do with racism. If any ethnic, religious or social group were to attempt to build such a illegal monstrosity in our community it would be fought all the way to the top court in the land. It's about traffic safety, crime and environmental impacts and following the law. Three Cheers for Dianne Jacob as she has fully supported her constituents not only in this matter but many other issues that have to do with our community.


Hollering 'racism' when someone disagrees with you is not a logical argument. It may be desperation or name calling but doesn't belong in any kind of rational discussion.

"Hollywood Casino is BAD for Jamul

The article above reads like a long-form ad for the casino and these pro-casino commentors puzzling over why the community is so against the casino were obviously written by folks outside the community. Us locals realize that unnatural traffic being driven onto our tiny two lane highway will only make our traffic struggles in and out worse, and more dangerous in wildfire situations. We also understand that the tiny and few road adjustments described above will not make a dent to address this. East County Magazine, try to show a little less bias next time. I am still hopeful about the current lawsuits and that justice will prevail and then they can move the whole mess to Hollywood or Pennsylvania where it belongs.

There is zero bias on our part.

We have previously had stories on this casino that included opponents' viewpoints such as coverage of rallies and lawsuits waged by the opponents.  It is good journalism to reach out and include all sides in an issue of public importance, and in this story we were pleased to provide the new tribal chairwoman's point of view on a variety of issues, the casino being one of those.  Opponents of this project seem to think that including any views but their own is "bias," when in fact it would be bias to exclude the tribe's viewpoint.



Belongs in Op Ed section then

Miriamg, Posting the tribe's view is fine but any of these types of slanted pieces (from either side) need to go in an Opinions and Editorials section. (Unless is is a paid ad. If you accepted money from Penn National or the tribe you should label it as such.)

No, an interview/profile is just that.

On our radio show we do many interviews such as ones we've done with environmentalists, charity leaders, business leaders, farmers, artists etc. and for that matter your own supporters in the past talking about Jamul issues  and I didn't hear anyone clamoring to label those as editorials. This is not OUR opinion in this piece. We are simply fulfilling our mission statement of allowing all voices and views to be heard. That doesn't mean every voice in every article. Sometimes we interview opposing views together, other times separately.

For the record, we have not taken any money from the Jamul tribe or Penn.  If we ever do run a story on anything controversial involving someone who is a major sponsor, we disclose that, rest assured.  For instance when we covered some community members' concerns over a hotel Viejas planned to build, we disclosed that they were the sponsor of our wildfire alerts at that time. Nobody on either side complained of any bias. 

Same when we ran a story  on a wind project; we disclosed that our parent nonprofit had the wind company as a sponsor of a conference it was holding.   That story actually had a lot more negative than positive details on the project which was widely opposed in the community. We never shy away from truth or allowing all views just because someone has been a donor or sponsor of our magazine or our parent nonprofit.  We also don't give in to pressure by any group to silence the voice of another.

Also we do not run "advertorials" or ads disguised as news stories, which is unethical. 




Casino good for Jamul and community

I have been at a complete loss concerning the opposition to this Casino and the actions taken by people in the community of Jamul. Over and over the people of San Diego County have seen nothing but positive impacts on the part of Native American gambling/casinos. Alpine has benefited greatly from Viejas; Harbinson Canyon/Rancho San Diego, Dehesa have benefited from Syucan, etc. I expect the same to occur here. Some of the actions on the part of people in Jamul have bordered on the unethical. For example, San Diego Rural Fire District (across the street from this casino site) has used tax dollars intended for fire protection to file Amicus briefs opposing this casino (without the knowledge of those in other parts of the fire district, e.g. Alpine, Lake Moreno, Descanso, etc.). Over and over, those opposed have held open meetings with nothing but abuse for the tribal members/casino management who have attended. I have heard over and over how Jamul wants to maintain its "rural nature", but I am at a loss at how this casino will make the area "urban". Of course, the 800 lbs gorillas in the room are the County Supervisor who lives in Jamul supports opposing the casino AND I cannot help but wonder if there isn't some level of racism present in the opponents. All in all, a sad situation and one which should be addressed collaboratively vice the manner in which it is currently being handled.

Hano, I'd like to know more about the Rural Fire actions.

Can you email me paperwork or mintues to document those actions?  I also heard, though haven't yet verified, that Rural Fire blocked certification of a tribal fire dept. I would like to get the facts but it would seem troubling to many I'm sure if efforts to improve fire safety, from any source, were being blocked.  I would think one could support or oppose a casino, yet still be in favor of beefing up fire protection and opposed to spending public funds on a legal battle without at least a public hearing and notice to district residents.

If anyone else here has knowledge on these issues, please email me at editor@eastcountymagazine.org.

Jamul Casino Will Bring Jobs, Be Good for the Area

The Jamul Casino will be good for the local economy. Businesses along SR 94, like gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants will get additional businesses from the Jamul Casino customers coming to the area. The casino will hire locally for services at the property. I know it isn't what some vocal locals expected or wanted in their area, but it is inevitable...so let's make the best of it. A couple of years from now, opposition will be quieted, jobs will be added locally, and it won't be the doom and gloom that opponents predicted.

Something Smells!

I obviously 100% agree with jacjamul! Not one tribal member is a Jamul resident!!!!!!!! No one really cares about the jobs this casino is bringing. Other local casinos have already told employees if they leave to work at the Jamul casino they will not be eligible for re-hire. Anyone that lives in Jamul will probably drive to Arizona for a job before applying for a job at this casino. Ask Mr. Simpson what happens in the community when you work with the casino.

Please follow our posting rules.

A reminder that our site rules ask for civil and respectful comments.  

While diverse views on controversial issues are allowed, comments tht are potentially defamatory are not.  Stating someone has done things "illegally" when no one has been charged or arrested, nor convicted in a criminal court nor even a civil court is over that line. While there are civil lawsuits working their way through the courts, thus far all rulings have been in favor of the tribe.  We also do not allow any comments that include racism, profanity or name-calling.  I am deleting a portion of your remark that violated our posting guidelines.

"what has been done to reach out to the community of Jamul"

Penn/JIV have done nothing to reach out to the community of Jamul. They have not been "good" neighbors. Not one of the so-called tribal members live on the property. None of the tribal members live in Jamul. The current members violently evicted and destroyed the homes of their "family". How do you explain destroying your own family while touting you are working for a better community? Calling BS on that one. And you think Penn/JIV want to work with the community to make it better? They are destroying the community of Jamul. 97% of the community and surrounding communities don't want it. The lawsuits in state and federal court are still pending. We will continue to fight to save our community.

SR 94 "Improvements"

If you are expecting traffic on SR94 from Tecate and Otay then why has Caltrans not proposed improvements to the eastern parts of SR 94? Why hasn't the intersection of SR 94 and Steele Canyon High School/Cougar Canyon been designated for improvements? Because Penn/JIV and Caltrans do not give a damn about our kids. Or the drivers of SR 94.