Tortoise Rock Casino Twentynine Palms California

Published 12:32 AM EDT Apr 1, 2014

TWENTYNINE PALMS –

The High Desert now has a long-delayed, relatively low-stakes Indian casino.

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Tortoise Rock Casino opened Monday in Twentynine Palms following years of planning slowed down by the Great Recession.

The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians runs the new casino and the existing Spotlight 29 casino in Coachella. General Manager Tom Sedlock, who oversees both casinos, said Tortoise Rock aims to be a draw for High Desert locals, not necessarily the type of gambler who travels hours to check out a new place to play.

'With nothing really up here in the High Desert and the military base, it just made sense to put a small, local casino in the community,' Sedlock said.

Officials were open about wanting to attract people from the nearby Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. Drawing in the base's younger residents is one reason Tortoise Rock is open to anyone 18 and older, Sedlock said.While the Morongo Casino in Cabazon is also 18 and over, other casinos in the area are not open to anyone under 21.

Tortoise Rock employs about 160 full- and part-time workers, most of whom have already been hired and undergone training at Spotlight 29, Sedlock said. For comparison, Walmart employs an average of 297 people at each of its California department stores, according to company statistics.

The 30,000-square-foot Tortoise Rock is opening with 490 slot machines, five table games and two poker tables. There's no hotel or large-scale restaurant attached to the casino at 73826 Baseline Road.

Sedlock said the casino's success will dictate any future expansions and that a hotel could be added if business is good. For now, food is available at a cafe area known as Oasis Grille. A sports bar called Shelly's Lounge near the middle of the casino focuses on drinks and has a small stage for live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Twentynine Palms California Apartments

Sedlock said the Twenty-Nine Palms Band began considering a second casino around 2005 or 2006, but the recession led the project to be shelved. Planning resumed again in early 2011, he said.

The tribe announced in January 2013 that Tortoise Rock would be built on tribal land. The news came following speculation worrying some residents that the tribe planned to build a casino on land it had acquired near the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.

Tribal gaming in California has seen modest growth in recent years following a period of annual declines during the recession, said Alan Meister, an Irvine-based economist who authored a recent report on the Indian gaming industry.

'The growth in California for Indian gaming is still pretty slow,' Meister said.

The 1.6 percent growth the industry saw in the state in 2011 and the 0.8 percent it saw in 2012 in California have been below what the industry has seen nationwide, he said.

His report found that gaming revenue on Indian sites nationwide grew 2 percent in 2012 to about $28.1 billion.

The Morongo Casino in Cabazon and Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs are both Indian casinos about an hour's drive from Tortoise Rock. Along with the Spa Resort Casino, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians owns a casino and hotel in Rancho Mirage that regularly hosts large-name entertainers.

'We wish the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians the best of luck with their new endeavor,' Jeff Grubbe, chairman of the Agua Caliente tribe, said in a statement. 'We believe the addition of Tortoise Rock brings more entertainment opportunities to the High Desert as well as much-needed jobs.'

Brothers Tim and Brad Hite were having lunch together at a restaurant not far from the new casino Monday. The two Twentynine Palms residents said they planned to head to the casino that evening for a drink.

With not many restaurants or entertainment options in town, they welcomed any new offerings that might come with the casino.

'I would hope that it would bring people into the town and that it would help local businesses,' Brad Hite said. 'You still can't get a good Cobb salad in this town.'

Reach Barrett Newkirk at (760)778-4767 or by email at [email protected]

Tribal Organization: Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians

73829 Base Line Rd
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

(866) 377-6829

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The casino is located off Baseline Road between Joshua Tree National Park and the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. The site is 32 acres in the northwestern portion of the Twenty-Nine Palms Indians Reservation. The tribe also owns the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella.

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