By Carol Lawson-Swezey, Reporter
The pent up excitement at the long anticipated revival of the Chukchansi Gold Resort Casino resulted in a standing room only crowd at the casino’s New Year’s Eve weekend reopening. Good news for the community and the tribal officials who were gratified at the large and energetic response to the reopening.
“Given the quality of the facility in terms of gaming experience and amenities, we expected a very good turnout for the reopening,” said casino CEO Christian Goode. “Things went extremely smoothly. Our employees did a fantastic job of providing our returning patrons with a world class experience.”
The casino, now open 24 hours a day, was at 85 percent capacity at 12 noon on December 31, its first day of reopening, with a line of vehicles waiting their turn to park. The 56,000-square-foot gaming area with 1700 slot machines, including new machines featuring Britney Spears, the “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Big Bang Theory,” opened to crowds estimated at over a thousand.
Nearly every available slot seat was full, except those which were closed for repair, and all of the 200 available hotel rooms were booked for the soft reopening weekend. A full grand reopening with all seven restaurants and the additional 200 hotel rooms is scheduled for January 15, which will bring back an additional 150 employees.
Plans for the official grand reopening include a special promotion with giveaways and a large party at the Firehouse Lounge. Tribal officials are working on finalizing the entertainment schedule. The Firehouse Lounge already has weekend acts booked including a DJ, comedian or musical entertainment and several large outdoor concerts are planned for the summer season. Hotel patrons will be able to call in or go online to book a room.
In addition, the casino menu has been updated and refreshed, including a change in the dinner buffet to a seafood menu at $24.95, which features over 100 items including shrimp, Alaskan Snow crab legs, salmon, prime rib and turkey, roast chicken and barbecue brisket.
Slot machine and table games have also been upgraded and improved. The casino’s reactivated bus service from surrounding communities is being planned for the next several weeks with a YARTS (Yosemite Area Rapid Transit System) stop on property which will serve the region, Goode said.
The casino’s surrounding mountain community is obviously excited about the anticipated resurgence of business patrons that the reopening is expected to bring. The annual payroll before the casino closure in October 2014 was more than $32 million, much of which goes back into surrounding communities as spending by employees, purchases at local businesses and donations to nonprofits.
Many locals also were waiting anxiously for the casino’s reopening, including Clovis resident Joyce Morgan.
“We’re very excited that the casino is open,” Morgan said. “It’s not smoky and very roomy, especially for my husband, David, who uses a walker. We like to go to get away and have a bite to eat there and especially like the steak restaurant.”
Clovis resident Joyce Imai is a casino regular who has been greatly anticipating the reopening, especially because of the large selection of restaurants, and of course to do a little gaming.
“I especially like the Noodle Bar and having the Double Dragon Roll,” Imai said. “The casino is more spacious and the hotel rooms are really nice.”
With the partial reopening, about 850 staff members are back to work. It is estimated that about 250 of those employees live in the Mountain Area.
“A vast majority of the staff are former employees,” Goode said. “We have been in constant contact with them since the summer with respect to timing, therefore they were ready to go on short notice. Overall, they are glad to be back and look forward to the success of Chukchansi. There is a strong loyalty to Chukchansi from team members. It has been amazing how many have come back to be part of the team.”
The casino pays out about $24 million to bondholders and another $12 million goes back to tribe members and tribal operations. The tribe also has added a $35 million bill to pay bondholders for reopening expenses. Gaming experts estimated that Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino’s annual revenue before the closure was around $100 million.
The hotel and casino were closed Oct. 10, 2014, after a faction from the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, with hired security forces, raided the facility a day earlier over a dispute about audit documentation.
But now, collectively the community, staff, patrons and tribal officials are glad to be back.
“The support and response from the immediate community has been nothing short of remarkable,” said CEO Goode. “We appreciate the partnership and look to grow the partnership going forward.”