Trees line the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas in October 2018. The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians announced recently it will buy the Palms Casino Resort for $650 million. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
LAS VEGAS — The purchase by a California-based Native American tribe of a casino resort just off the Las Vegas Strip is being seen a milestone in the evolution of Indian casino ownership in city at the center of U.S. gambling.
"Who doesn't want to be in Las Vegas?" Laurens Vosloo, CEO of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal following last week's announcement that the tribe will buy the Palms Casino Resort from Las Vegas-based casino operator Station Casinos for $650 million.
"It's the gaming Mecca of the world and the place to be," Vosloo said. "It's a natural and a good fit for us to have an asset there that we can send our customers to, contribute to that economy and be part of the Las Vegas community."
The deal is expected to close later this year, making the San Manuel Band the second tribal enterprise in the Las Vegas resort corridor.
The Mohegan Sun Casino opened in March at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas — the renamed and renovated former Hard Rock resort several blocks east of the Strip.
The gambling operation is the namesake of a property operated by the Connecticut-based Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, located about halfway between New York City and Boston.
A third entity, Hard Rock International, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, acquired rights in 2020 to the Hard Rock brand for the Las Vegas market and has expressed interest in a Las Vegas Strip property.
"To say you work in or near the Las Vegas Strip is a vote of confidence and a huge badge of credibility," Josh Swissman, consultant with The Strategy Organization, told the Review-Journal. "All three (tribal operators would) stand to benefit from that association."
Native American tribes in the U.S. have operated gambling and bingo halls since the 1970s. Operations expanded after the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 established an oversight structure.
An American Gaming Association report in 2018 with Meister Economic Consulting tallied tribal operations in 28 states, accounting for about 45% of all gambling revenue in the U.S.
The San Manuel Band opened the San Manuel Casino in 1986 in the Southern California community of Highland.
Tribal casinos are not new in Nevada, but the Mohegan Sun and San Manuel sites would not be on reservation land.
The Fort Mojave Tribe's Avi Resort & Casino opened in 1995 on the Fort Mojave Reservation near Laughlin, about 100 miles south of Las Vegas.
The Wa She Shu Casino & Travel Plaza opened in 2016, operated by the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and the Poarch Creek Indians of California in Gardnerville.
Tribal gambling researcher Katherine Spilde, a professor at San Diego State University, told the Review-Journal that casino purchases in Las Vegas are a natural evolution for Native American casino operators.
"Once you've kind of built out your own property and maximized what you can do in the market that you're in … we see tribes then looking to go into commercial expansion into a casino that's not on tribal land," she said.