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By Miriam Raftery

Photos by Byron Croft: top, Richard St. Jean and Penn National team; right, Final Cut steakhouse view.


October 9,2016 (Jamul) – “I’m like a proud parent,” Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego vice president and general manager Richard St. Jean said,  during a preview tour of the 200,000 square foot facility on Saturday.  This has been a long time coming.”

The casino will opening to the public on Monday at 2 p.m., after an 11 a.m.ribbon-cutting for Penn National Gaming executive team members and tribal members of the Jamul Indian Village of the Kumeyaay Nation.

“Our dream is finally becoming a reality,” said Erica Pinto, chairwoman of Jamul Indian Village.  “I am so grateful for everyone who has helped make this possible for our people, including current and previous Tribal Councils of Jamul Indian Village, our developers Penn National Gaming and the many professionals we've had the pleasure of working with along the way."

Stairs in a grand entry (photo, right, by Miriam Raftery) lead up to the casino floor, which exudes elements of  classic Hollywood elegance,  including  sparkling chandeliers, morengai wood,  polished tiles, blue glass and stamped metal elements.

The Final Cut steakhouse (which will also have seafood) features vintage gowns displayed in the restaurant that were worn by such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe, Gypsy Rose Lee and Christopher Reeve. Vintage Hollywood music, plush dining booths and photos of silver screen celebrities add to the ambience.

(Photo,left, by Byron Croft:  private dining room, elegantly set. Photos,  right, by Miriam Raftery:  main dining room, Gypsy Rose Lee gown.

The chef was formerly executive chef at  Rincon’s casino and has also run the elite Occidental in Washington D.C.as well as working at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, bringing a fine dining establishment to rural East County.

The steakhouse also has an outdoor deck and adjacent bar with panoramic views of the Jamul countryside and mountains beyond.  (Photos,  below,by Byron Croft)

Windows on three sides fill the casino with natural lighting by day and starlight after dark, making the interiors surprisingly light and airy. 

The casino sports over 1700 slot machines and 40 table games including blackjack, craps, roulette,  Mini Baccarat,  Let It Ride, Pai Gow and more.(There's no bingo room, though, due to space limitations.)

The casino’s décor also pays tribute to San Diego, with floor-to-ceiling murals of classic San Diego scenes from the U.S.S. Midway , honoring our military, to downtown landmarks such as Petco Park and the Coronado Bridge.  The tribe's Vice Chairman once served aboard the Midway.

Some elements also honor the tribe, such as a a “Loft 49”  Club logo that includes a photo of surrounding mountains taken by tribal Chair Erica Pinto on the morning the casino broke ground.((Photo, right, by Miriam Raftery)

 “I asked,  `What’s the opposite of a beer cellar?’” St. Jean recalls.  The concept of a beer loft was born. The 94 Loft  is perched above the casino floor with an outdoor deck and views of Highway 94, also known as Campo Road.  (Photo, left,by Byron Croft)

It features 48 beers on tap,  of which 98 percent are local.  The casino is also sourcing local wines and more.

“The goal was  buy locally,  source locally,” says St. Jean.  All restaurants serve up fresh foods, nothing frozen. 

Other restaurants include Emerald Chinese,known for its downtown location(photo,right, by Miriam Raftery),  Pizza Port, Rubio’s and Tres Taqueria, which features sliced meats gyros-style. 

There’s also a Jive Lounge, with metallic elements and views (photo,left, by Byron Croft.)

The tribe takes special pride in the new Tony Gwynn Sports Bar, honoring the late Padres Hall of  Fame star.(photo, below right, courtesy JIV)

“Tony Gwynn was our first choice,” St. Jean says.”Alicia (Gwynn’s widow) has been great to work with.” On display are Gwynn's  World Series ring, Golden Glove and Silver Slugger awards,  as well as his season-end uniform.

Sports fans can tune in their favorite game on touch-screen TVs right at your own booth or order up food such as short ribs  Bolognese.

More eateries are planned including a coffee house, diner and rooftop beer garden(photo of rooftop site,below, by Byron Croft), plus a members-only bar.  Club members can play in San Diego and stay in Las Vegas free, or vice versa, says St. .Jean, a benefit to members made possible by Penn’s ownership of other gaming properties.

There will also be live entertainment featuring local bands popular in the San Diego marketplace in an intimidate lounge setting;  a schedule will be posted on the casino website.

What differentiates us is ease of access, “ says St. Jean, ,who expects the casino to draw residents and tourists from San Diego, the South Bay and East County primarily,  as well as Mexico.   Parking is underground—1,800 spaces, plus valet parking available.  The casino is all on one level and easy to navigate compared to larger casinos.  (It does not have a poker room, bingo, buffet, golf or hotel, but does have arrangements with local lodging establishments.)  There is a  cozy room for high-rollers, however.

The casino is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Patrons must be over 21 years old.  Alcohol will be served on the casino floor (photo, left,  courtesy of JIV) as well as in some restaurants; restaurant hours will vary.

The unrestricted alcohol license has been a sore point with some residents opposed to the casino, who have voiced concerns about the potential for increased DUI accidents on State Route 94,  which already has one of the highest accident rates of any local highway. 

Asked to respond to those concerns, St. Jean said Penn has over two dozen facilities in the U.S.”Our record nationwide is stellar.”  He adds that everyone “from the GM on down” who works on the casino floor or restaurants has taken TIPS training to prevent intoxication.  A sheriff is stationed in-house and security guards at every point of access will intercept guests if needed to arrange for a cab,  Lyft ride, or “if there’s no other option, our security will drive them home,” says St. Jean.

Highway 94/Campo Road has been widened along a stretch in front of the casino as part of $23 million in mitigation money the tribe has committed.  Turn lanes and a signal light were also added.  Our photographer,who was previously T-boned by a drunk driver at the intersection where the signal light now stands, appreciated hearing of this  improvement. 

“Safety was first and foremost,” says St. Jean, who added that other traffic mitigation improvements promised will be completed,  but that some require land acquisitions that take time.  The tribe has agreed to make pay the $90 million over 20 years for fire, life and public safety; the tribe also spent $1.5 million on a ladder and pump truck for the County Fire Authority’s station across the street.

“The Tribe maintains a longstanding commitment to the community,” said Pinto(photo, right, courtesy JIV). “We are proud to fund roadway improvements and other essential services to make our community safer. These efforts are meaningful and important for our Tribe and our neighbors.”

The tribe also aims to use casino revenues for charitable efforts to combat hunger, homelessness and drug addiction.  The tribe supports Noah’sHomes,Crisis House and St. Joseph’s Foundation for kids; two of the new hires are developmentally disabled clients from  Noah’s Homes, where the tribe also consulted to help build homes.

The  casino has hired 90% local employees, who have been on the payroll since August, while the casino awaited final approval from  the National Indian Gaming Commission.   The project created 1,200 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs,  according to the JIV.

The tribe,  one of 13 bands in the Kumeyaay nation that traces its roots back 12,000 years, ultimately hopes to help bring housing,education and healthcare to its tribal members as well as members of other tribes in the region.

“The Tribe maintains a longstanding commitment to the community,” said Pinto. “We are proud to fund roadway improvements and other essential services to make our community safer. These efforts are meaningful and important for our Tribe and our neighbors.”

The casino has faced tough opposition from  neighbors concerned about traffic safety and rural character,  among other concerns. Multiple lawsuits have delayed the project along the way, with some cases remaining on appeal.

But for the tribe, Monday will be a time to roll out the red carpet and celebrate debut of the new casino,  which holds the prospect of economic prosperity for the tribal members.

“It has been over two decades of grit and determination to get to this day,” said Tribal Vice Chairman Kenneth Meza. “We extend our gratitude to the Tribal leaders in San Diego County who have supported us in our dream. We will now be able to provide for our members. The future is bright for Jamul Indian Village.”

For more information on the casino, entertainment, restaurants, or jobs at  Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego,  visit www.hollywoodcasino.com.  


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