San Manuel tribe donates $9 million to UNLV to fund hospitality and legal development programs

February 22, 2020 4:40 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
February 22, 2020 4:40 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

Southern California’s San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is donating $9 million to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to fund tribal development programs through the university’s hospitality college and school of law.

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The gift – $6 million to the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality and $3 million to William S. Boyd School of Law – was announced Friday at UNLV and is the single-largest philanthropic contribution made by the tribe outside of California to an educational or healthcare institution.

The donation continues to solidify the Southern Nevada presence of the San Manuel tribe, which operates the San Manuel Casino in San Bernardino County.

The tribe has a marketing and sponsorship deal with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights that includes San Manuel Casino signage on boards along the ice inside the T-Mobile Arena.

San Manuel recently signed on as a “founding partner” of Las Vegas’ $2 billion Allegiant Stadium, which opens later this year and will serve as home to the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders. The tribe will also be a Raiders sponsor.

However, both San Manuel Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena and tribal CEO Loren Gill said the effort doesn’t mean San Manuel’s name will be affixed to a casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

San Manuel CEO Loren Gill/Photo courtesy UNLV

“The on the record answer is no. We are not going to buy a place here in any near future,” said Gill, who was San Manuel Casino’s general manager for three years before being named the tribe’s CEO.

“We do continue to look for opportunities to expand the tribe’s economic development,” Gill said. “That could be in hotels, casinos or entertainment facilities. As of today, we have no active transactions.”

Penn National Gaming executives, on recent quarterly conference calls, have said the company wants to sell Tropicana Las Vegas. Meanwhile, several resorts currently operated by Caesars Entertainment are reportedly being shopped by Eldorado Resorts, which is buying Caesars in a $17.3 billion transaction. Bloomberg reported last week that Eldorado CEO Tom Reeg wants to “slim down” Caesars.

Gill, who spent time in Las Vegas as a casino executive with properties owned by Boyd Gaming and Affinity Gaming, said the San Manuel tribe will continue to make charitable donations into the Las Vegas community.

“We have an interest and a desire to expand our economic development platform through direct investments.” Gill said. “That could be anywhere. We are actively looking for assets to own, manage or participate in. It could it happen in the future and it could happen in another jurisdiction.”

Currently, the San Manuel Tribe is investing $550 million to expand to turn its flagship casino into a full-scale resort, with a 450-room hotel tower, a 3,000-seat events center, new restaurants and other non-gaming attractions. Last year, the tribe expanded the casino, adding a high-limit gaming area. The facility, which primarily draws customers from the populous Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, has 5,000 slot machines and 130 table games.

By next year, the tribe – which has 260 members – could employ more than 7,500 workers at the casino and its other business entities.

‘Historic’ pairing

San Manuel Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena/Photo courtesy UNLV

At Friday’s event, interim UNLV President Marta Meana called the donation an “historic” partnership between the university and the San Manuel tribe.

“This philanthropic gift will position UNLV as the nation’s leading source for education and innovation related to tribal gaming operations and law,” Meana said.

Valbuena said UNLV leaders initially approached the tribe about considering the university for a donation, which she said positions UNLV as the nation’s leading source for education and innovation related to tribal gaming operations and law.

“The full potential of tribal gaming cannot be achieved if we do not also place emphasis on developing Native people to manage our economic developments, including gaming,” said Valbuena,

“Therefore, we are making this investment in the partnership with UNLV to educate and prepare our children, grandchildren and future generations to help chart our path to a sustainable future,” Valbuena said, adding she expects gaming tribes from around the nation will send students to study at UNLV.

Funding hospitality and legal programs

At the hotel school, a portion of the gift will establish the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Endowed Chair in Tribal Gaming at the UNLV College of Hospitality. College of Hospitality Dean Stowe Shoemaker said the school will incorporate tribal gaming into existing gaming courses, create new on-campus and online degree-track courses in tribal gaming, and develop a set of online certificate courses.

“As tribal gaming continues to expand throughout the nation, it is critical for our college to be able to educate both current and future professionals on the operational nuances of tribal gaming,” Shoemaker said.

UNLV Interim President Marta Meana is wrapped in a ceremonial tribal blanket by San Manuel Chairwoman Lynn Valbuena (r) and tribal council member Audrey Martinez/Photo courtesy UNLV

In a statement, UNLV said it will create a week-long executive seminar for tribal gaming professionals with the full rollout planned by 2023.

The donation to the law school will support a professor-in-residence, a visiting professor, and a program administrator who will create research programs on governance, regulation, and economic development issues.

Funds will also be channeled into a scholarship for a student seeking a legal master’s degree specializing in gaming, with preference given to tribal citizens and indigenous student applicants.

The law school will also develop online courses on tribal governance and gaming regulation, expand its tribal law program. An annual workshop or symposium will be created that focuses on emerging topics and issues of interest to Native American gaming.

In a statement, law school Dean Dan Hamilton said Boyd offers more gaming law classes than any other law school and has the nation’s only master’s in gaming law and regulation.

“This extraordinary gift will enable UNLV Boyd to take on a leading role nationally in an area of the law that is rapidly evolving,” Hamilton said.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.