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Gaming Commission OKs license for tribe to own, operate Palms

The Nevada Gaming Commission on Thursday unanimously approved licensing for a Southern California Indian tribe to become the new owner of the off-Strip Palms property.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is expected to close Friday on the $650 million deal with Station Casinos parent company, Red Rock Resorts, after the commission spent an hour reviewing the licensing application.

The San Bernardino-based group becomes the first Native American tribe to own and operate a hotel-casino in Las Vegas. The Connecticut-based Mohegan Tribe operates only the casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas with JC Hospitality LLC as property manager and local owner of Virgin. Hilton Worldwide manages the lodging for Virgin Hotels Las Vegas as part of Hilton’s Curio Collection.

Another tribe, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, is expected to become the first Native American operation to have a Strip address next year when tribe-owned Hard Rock International acquires The Mirage from MGM Resorts International for $1.075 billion, a deal announced earlier this week.

Palms to reopen in spring

San Manuel tribal leaders told commissioners the Palms, which has been closed for two years, would reopen in the spring and that hotel room reservations would be available within days.

Cynthia Kiser Murphey, a former MGM executive who the San Manuel band hired to be the new general manager of the Palms, said in a Thursday interview that pinpointing an exact opening date would occur after officials review supply-chain issues. She noted the tribe is procuring San Manuel-branded chips, cards and dice, which must be viewed by regulators.

“All of those things take some time from design and procurement and then a review,” she said.

Murphey told commissioners the tribe intends in January to hire any former Palms employees who may be available before recruiting other workers in February and March. She said around 1,200 workers are expected to be hired.

Tribal executives said they would handle the acquisition of the Palms through a $200 million loan from a tribal investment board and a $550 million revolving line of credit. That will provide $650 million for the transaction and $100 million in working capital to prepare the property for reopening.

Executives said very little capital improvement is needed for the property because Station Casinos maintained it well. The tribe intends to remodel back-of-the-house features, refresh parking and landscaping features and update the resort’s sportsbook. The tribe is contracting with William Hill US to manage the sportsbook and it has a licensing application submitted to the Nevada Gaming Control Board for future consideration.

The 700-room, 19-year-old Palms has a 100,000-square-foot casino with around 1,400 slot machines and 55 table games. The resort also has 23 restaurants, a 14-screen movie theater complex and the 2,500-seat Pearl Theater for live entertainment.

The tribe also plans to introduce its Club Serrano loyalty card when the doors open.

‘Grateful for the opportunity’

The resort plans to market the property to Las Vegas residents and to customers within the San Manuel database from Southern California. On Monday, the tribe opened its 432-room flagship Yaamava’ Resort and Casino, formerly known as San Manuel Casino, in Highland, California.

Latisha Casas, chairwoman of the San Manuel Gaming and Hospitality Authority that oversees the tribe’s gaming and resort operations, said she’s hopeful that Las Vegans who sign up for the loyalty program will consider stays at Yaamava’, particularly when some of the city’s professional sports teams play in Southern California.

Casas said the tribe plans to continue its philanthropic efforts in Southern Nevada and looks forward to bringing San Manuel’s culture to Las Vegas.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to share our long-standing tradition of hospitality with Las Vegas and execute our vision for this iconic resort,” she said.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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