Official grand opening celebrations being planned ◆ By Mike Hiles
Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians tribal members will celebrate the Soboba Casino Resort on March 12 and dignitaries have been invited to a celebration on March 26. The official grand opening for the public is being scheduled for June.
But a soft opening on Feb. 20 allowed guests to finally see the result of a construction project in San Jacinto that started with a groundbreaking two years ago. The parking lot of 2,000 spaces was full by mid-afternoon. Casino employees parked at the old location and were shuttled over to make room for everyone who wanted to get a first look at the new facility.
Shortly after midnight, staff and Soboba Tribal Council members were on hand to “flip the switch” that officially shut down the old casino about a mile east of the new resort and allowed items to be transported to the new location in time to open the doors at noon.
Table games and 2,000 slot machines had to be moved from one location to the other and this was done after midnight when the old casino wasn’t so crowded. Relocating the legacy sign that was part of the old casino that opened in 1995 was also an important step in the transition process.
“It’s a big part of our history and it means a lot to our tribe, our customers and our employees,” said Soboba Casino Resort’s Assistant General Manager Jason Cozart.
Despite being up most of the night before the soft opening to make sure everything went smoothly he was full of energy after the ribbon cutting had taken place.
“It’s a zoo,” Cozart said with a smile. “I’m running on about 90 minutes of sleep and a gallon of coffee but thanks to the support of our tribal members, council and employees, we got it open.”
Soboba Tribal Council Chairman Scott Cozart said it has been an incredible journey.
“We are thankful for all the people who have made this possible – I’m excited to see it come to fruition,” he said. “It’s amazing the way that this has come together.”
On the Monday prior to the soft opening, Soboba Tribal Council members met with casino employees at the new site to thank them for their hard work, dedication and continued success.
“When we blessed the building, we prayed for all of you – not just for your jobs here but for your whole families,” Kelli Hurtado said. “I want to say with all of my heart that we couldn’t do this without all of you.”
Vice Chairman Isaiah Vivanco echoed those sentiments as he expressed his appreciation to the employees.
“It’s going to be a learning curve for all of us; it’s going to take a lot more effort but you’re the team to do it,” he said. “At our level we will make sure you have the tools you need to succeed.”
And it’s not just about a new building – the amenities are endless. The new gaming floor is larger than the entire legacy facility. With the addition of restaurants, a food court and several bars visitors to the casino can stay longer and enjoy more. Beverage kiosks dot the gaming floor offering self-serve soda and coffee options.
Joe Whitman, director of slots, said there will be 2,000 machines in place when everything is fitted out by the end of the week.
“This casino was designed in such a manner as to funnel people through the gaming floor from whichever entrance they choose,” he said. “Many casinos have large banks of machines but we opted for a smaller bank design to provide lots of room and make it more player friendly.”
Dianne Arthur of Hemet was excited to join her friends on the first day of access. She is a big fan of the “Buffalo” slot machines and was anxiously awaiting her new Club Soboba card so she could start playing.
“I like that there is cleaner air, more restaurants and it’s so pretty,” said Arthur, 72.
The floor air exchangers that were designed to allow for outside air to come into the facility. Every 10 minutes the air handlers will complete a cycle of replacing the air within the room with fresh air.
Dennis and Maria Marckstadt came from Banning for the special day and were also looking forward to playing the slots.
“I don’t really have a favorite one – just whichever one is paying out well,” Maria Marckstadt said. “We plan to stay today until we run out of money.”
The Cabaret Lounge kept the energy level high as The Smokin’ Cobras played rock-and-roll oldies while listeners sang along, danced and cheered.
The 200-room hotel started accepting guests on Feb. 22. Now that the casino has taken over operations of the Soboba Springs Golf Course, the resort has become a destination where guests can stay and play with something for everyone to enjoy.