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Gaming Board recommends licensing of San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians moved one step closer Wednesday to becoming the new owners of The Palms.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board voted unanimously to recommend that the San Manuel Gaming and Hospitality Authority, a subsidiary of the tribe that would operate the resort, be licensed to acquire the still-closed off-Strip resort.

The recommendation will be considered for final approval by the Nevada Gaming Commission on Dec. 16.

“We know that Las Vegas is and will always be the gaming and entertainment hub of North America. And we are honored to potentially join and contribute to its community and its legacy,” Latisha Casas, chair of the tribe’s gaming and hospitality authority, told the board.

If approved by the commission later this month, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians would become the first Native American tribe to own and operate a hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

“This is a historic moment,” control board member Phil Katsaros said. “I congratulate the San Manuel tribe on all the success that they’ve had and wish them all the success in the future as well.”

The tribe announced in May that they were buying The Palms for $650 million from Red Rock Resorts, which had purchased the property from the Maloof family for $312.5 million in 2016.

The 700-room, 19-year-old resort will be the tribe’s first hotel-casino beyond its flagship Yaamava’ Resort and Casino, formerly known as San Manuel Casino, in Southern California.

“The Palms represents the next phase of San Manuel’s long-term diversification strategy and has the potential to be a generational asset for the tribe,” Laurens Vosloo, CEO of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, told the board.

Red Rock Resorts invested $690 million to renovate the resort. But even with the heavy remodeling and upgrades, the property still struggled. After a grand reopening in April of 2019, the resort’s signature attraction, Kaos Nightclub, closed just seven months later.

The Palms, and every other casino in the state, was then closed amid the statewide shutdown starting March of 2020. While most resorts reopened in the summer of 2020, The Palms remains closed.

Reopening next year

San Manuel is targeting the first half of 2022 to reopen the Palms for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdown. And the renovations and remodels make that reopening plan quite a bit easier.

“The current owners have done an outstanding job not only remodeling but maintaining and taking good care of it. So there’s very little that needs to be done,” said Cynthia Kiser Murphey, who the tribe hired to be the new general manager of The Palms.

The tribe has set aside $100 million on top of the purchase price for capital improvements and other pre-opening expenses. Murphey said they plan to make improvements to the back-of-house employee areas, parking areas and landscaping, and are looking to update the resort’s sportsbook technology.

Building up workforce

But the group’s main focus going forward is building back up a workforce for a resort that’s been closed for more than 18 months, Murphey said, starting with trying to recall as many Palms employees as possible. That will include welcoming events to rehire those workers, as well as virtual job fairs and community events across the Las Vegas Valley to find employees, she added.

Questions from gaming control board members focused mostly on the structure of the subsidiary and how it would operate independently of the tribe itself, a setup that control board Chairman Brin Gibson would be entirely new in Nevada’s gaming universe.

Longtime gaming attorney and former Gaming Control board member Mark Clayton, who is representing the tribe, said that the authority’s ability to operate independently won’t be an issue, as the structure put forward by the tribe is “very structured, very siloed, and very strict.”

“I’ve never had a client more vigilant about not crossing any lines,” Clayton said.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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