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North County casinos continue to grow, improve

A 22-story hotel is under construction on the Rincon reservation in northeast county, part of a $165 million resort and casino expansion project. It's the tallest hotel in the Valley Center and Fallbrook area.

This rendering depicts Harrah's Rincon Resort & Casino's new 22-story hotel, four-level parking structure and casino expansion.

There will be 459 rooms and 87 suites, 36 of which will have balconies over the pool area with mountain views, according to tribal chairman John Currier. Construction began in November and is expected to be completed by the end of the year, he said. The new hotel dwarfs the existing, four-story hotel that once had 201 rooms. Some of the rooms are being converted into suites or are being turned into a VIP lounge.

The project includes a four-level, 1,200-space parking structure, and a 12,000 square-foot casino expansion. When completed, the casino will be 59,000 square feet. A new gift shop, and swimming pool and spa areas are planned.

The general contractor is O'Neil Construction. The architect is the Paul Steelman Design Group in Las Vegas.

Overall, the total cost of building and expanding the resort is $350 million.

In 1999, the Rincon San Luiseno Band of Mission Indians entered a tribal-state gaming compact -- or agreement -- with California to have slot machines.

The Harrah's Rincon Resort and Casino has 1,600 slot machines but can have up to 2,000, Currier said. State officials have said no more licenses are available. The tribe plans to build a fire station and is out to bid for an architect. Rincon also is setting aside a 12-acre site for a future sports complex. The tribal hall is slated for rehabilitation, according to Currier, who has been chairman for more than five years. "Our tribal hall's really in a dilapidated condition," he said.

Pala Casino Resort & Spa, on the reservation to the north of Rincon, completed a $110 million expansion project in July 2003.

The project's new 678,808-square-foot resort includes a 10-story, 507-room hotel tower, 30,000 square feet of convention space, two restaurants, an Olympic-size swimming pool and two entertainment venues. The project also included a four-level, 503-car parking structure and 63,507-square-foot expansion and renovation of the existing casino.

The design phase began in January 2002. Construction started in July 2002.

The new Diamond Lounge opens in late August, offering a place to pause from gaming for the casino customers holding Harrah's Diamond Rewards cards. The lushly decorated, serene facility features separate areas where Diamond Players can munch on snacks, purchase cocktails, watch televised sports, relax before the fire or just take in the scenery of the outdoor garden.

"Right now, we're trying to absorb what we have," said tribal chairman Jerry Turk. "We're exploring another restaurant, adding square footage to the casino."

The casino has 2,000 slot machines, the maximum allowed under the tribal gaming-state compact, and 85 tables.

The Las Vegas-based Friedmutter Group was the architect.

The Friedmutter Group has designed and assisted in the successful opening of more than $2 billion worth of hospitality, casino and entertainment facilities across the nation, in the past three years, according to the company.

Most of these projects are done on a fast-track basis, said Chuck Jones, a vice president of the company. About 40 percent of Friedmutter's business is with Native Americans across the country, he said.

On-reservation projects are similar to those in the public sector.

"The relationship with the Native Amercian arena is a very respectful one," Jones said, adding that his company is an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association.

The Perini Building Co. was the general contractor. The company's other tribal gaming projects in California include Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula; Thunder Valley Casino in Lincoln; Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez; and Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa in Cabazon.

Pala Casino, Resort & Spa recently completed an expansion that included a 10-story, 507-room hotel tower, 30,000 square feet of convention space, two restaurants, an Olympic-size swimming pool and two entertainment venues.

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