Penn National plans to build Hollywood-brand casino in San Diego

Regional casino giant Penn National Gaming, which owns M Resort, announced plans Friday to enter San Diego’s Indian gaming market.

The company, which is based in Wyomissing, Pa., announced an agreement to build a $360 million Hollywood-branded casino project for the Jamul Indian Village. The development, which is expected to break ground later this year, is roughly 20 miles east of downtown San Diego.

In a statement, tribal officials said that the environmental review process for the site was completed and the tribe is working with California and San Diego County agencies to address potential environmental impacts.

The project is planned as a three-story, 200,000-square-foot casino with 1,700 slot machines and 50 table games, restaurants, entertainment amenities and a parking structure.

Penn National said it hoped to open the casino 24 months after construction starts.

“We look forward to a productive collaboration with the tribe that will benefit the community, the tribe and Penn National,” company President Timothy Wilmott said in a statement.

A spokesman for Penn National said the tribe is working with California to improve access for the facility off San Diego Highway 94.

Penn National may provide backstop financing to the tribe in connection with the project. The company will manage the casino.

Lakes Entertainment was working with the Jamul tribe until last year but remains a subordinated lender.

The agreements between Penn National and the tribe are subject to approval by the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Penn National operates 29 casinos and race track casinos in 19 states and provinces.

The Jamul tribe has been federally recognized since the 19th century. The tribe entered into a compact with California for gaming in 1999.

California is the largest Indian gaming market in the United States with 66 casinos producing 25 percent of the nation’s total gaming revenue in 2010, according to the Indian Gaming Industry Report, which was recently published by Casino City.

California Indian casinos collected $6.78 billion in gaming revenues in 2010.

San Diego County has one of the highest concentration of Indian casinos in the state with nearly a dozen large and small properties.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. operates Harrah’s Rincon in the northern part of the county.

Southern California economist Alan Meister, who authored the Indian Gaming Industry Report, said the county’s large population base can handle additional casinos.

“It sounds like a decent location,” Meister said. “There are already a good number of facilities, but with the surrounding counties in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside, there is good amount of customers to draw from.”

Station Casinos is also involved in California’s Indian gaming market. The company is opening the $850 million Graton Resort and Casino about 40 miles north of San Francisco later this year. Station Casino also has an agreement to build a casino for a tribe near Fresno.

“It’s not unusual for tribes to reach out to commercial entities for operational experience,” Meister said.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.


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