“This is not like anything they told us they were going to build."
  • “This is not like anything they told us they were going to build."
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Driving down a Jamul backroad, I spot a personal aircraft haphazardly parked in a field of tall grass, a man in chaps riding a horse down the road, and a makeshift target-practice range. The lack of a homeowners’ association is evident in many sections of town. It’s a hodge-podge of manufactured homes, palatial mansions, and do-it-yourself home-improvement projects and add-ons. It’s a town made up, mostly, of the solidly middle class with a handful of eccentrically wealthy. It’s the kind of town you move to when you want to escape the hustle and bustle. Perhaps that’s why when members of the Jamul Indian Village, in the 1990s, announced their plans to build a casino in town, locals lost their minds.

"Our improvements will go all the way down to TGIFriday’s in Rancho San Diego."

Even now, with the casino reaching its one-year anniversary, anti-casino signs are prominently displayed in Jamul. One reads, in blood-red letters, “97.5% say no casino!” Another quixotically demands, “No casino in Jamul! Save our community!”

Marcia Spurgeon: "I have no desire to put my foot in the casino."

Tribal members of the Jamul Indian Village are one of 13 local bands belonging to the Kumeyaay nation. Ancestors of the now–61-person Jamul Indian band settled on a parcel of land adjacent to a graveyard maintained by a Roman Catholic church early last century.

Erica Pinto: "The tribal council right now, we are all young. My dad is the only elder.”

In 1978 the Daly family, who owned 4.5 acres of land the Jamul Village Indians settled on, entrusted it — along with 1.8 acres donated by the Catholic Church ­— to the United States government to be used as the Jamul Indian Village reservation. Because of the transfer of ownership of this land, the Indians were able to apply for federal recognition to become a designated tribe.

Michael Casinelli: "My concerns are: safety issues, the fact that they are not legally a recognized tribe, and environmental concerns.”

With that recognition they were entitled to federal funding. The funding brought electricity and running water to the homes on the reservation. Prior to 1981, the Jamul band’s housing, most of which was dirt-floored and made with scrap plywood and metal, had neither electricity nor running water. With this federal recognition, to the dismay of many Jamul residents, came the prospect of future gaming and an eventual casino for the Jamul Indian Village.

The Hollywood Casino site before construction

“There is the casino”

...Marcia Spurgeon says in disgust while peering up at the massive building from out the window of her SUV. “This is not like anything they told us they were going to build when we went to their meetings. This building is bigger than any Walmart in the United States.”

Casino entrance. “The big change came when Penn came in from Pennsylvania, and Jerry Brown gave it its blessing."

It’s early Friday afternoon and Spurgeon has offered to take me on a tour of Jamul. She is a real estate agent in town and an active member of the Jamul Action Committee, a group of locals that advocates for the community, all of whom are vehemently against the casino. This group is responsible for the anti-casino signs hung around Jamul.

Loft 94, the casino’s beer garden and cocktail lounge. Pinto turns to me and says, “There is so much more than this I want for my tribe!”

After driving past some of the nicer homes in Jamul and down backroads, Spurgeon has saved the casino for last. She wants it to sink in how out of place the glitzy casino looks among Jamul’s dusty hiking trails, grassy fields, and mountainous backdrops. The large red lettering on the face of the casino stands out boldly against the rugged and serene open space that surrounds the casino. Its six-level parking garage and two-story gaming complex next to Highway 94 look oversized and out of place from all angles.

"Hollywood Casino is the only casino in the state ever to get even a temporary license to serve alcohol prior to opening. It took Barona and Viejas about ten years."

Spurgeon and other members of the Jamul Action Committee, along with the Jamul Planning committee, are the Hollywood Casino’s most vocal dissenters. The groups have filed over 40 lawsuits in protest of the casino. Even with the structure already built and up and running, they are still heavily protesting its existence.

“Have you been inside the casino?” I ask Spurgeon who is still grimacing at the structure.

She shakes her head, adding firmly, “I have never been in the casino. I have no desire to put my foot in it. I am not a gambler, and they use facial recognition.” Spurgeon lets out a gleeful chuckle before adding, “You should read their Yelp reviews. Overall they are pretty negative.”

Over on Yelp, the Hollywood Casino has garnered 2.5 stars out of 5. Some are from disgruntled visitors while many others are from annoyed community members who, like Spurgeon, view the casino as a threat to keeping Jamul rural.

Spurgeon outlines three solid reasons she is against the casino: road safety, its environmental impact, and the need to keep Jamul rural.

“When I am showing houses, people will say, ‘I am tired of having close neighbors. I just want a little space.’ That seems to be the theme. People enjoy the quiet and peacefulness Jamul offers.”

On our drive around town I am taken aback by the beauty of Jamul. It’s a hazy day, but from the a viewpoint along Lyons Valley Road, San Diego sprawls out before me. The Otay River sparkles, and parts of Coronado are visible. For Spurgeon, the casino is an assault on the beauty of the community she has called home for over 40 years.

“You know,” she says as we look out over Jamul Valley, “half of [the Jamul Village Indians] have never even set foot out here. They don’t even live in Jamul.”

Spurgeon is correct. Very few Jamul Village Indians live in Jamul. The reason for that is their entire reservation, all six acres, are used to house the Hollywood Casino, parking structure, community center, tribal meeting building, and the cemetery where their elders are buried. Other San Diego County bands with casinos boast far larger acreage. Viejas sits on 1572 acres, Pala has a whopping 12,333 acres, and Barona’s acreage is 5664. The Jamul Indian Village doesn’t have enough acreage to create their own community around their casino. The modest homes that once sat on their reservation were bulldozed in order to accommodate their supersized casino. The Hollywood Casino has been dropped in a sleepy community whose residents are not tribe members and therefore don’t see the benefit to its existence the way those surrounding other tribal casinos do. And that is where most of the drama stems from.

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Ponzi Jan. 31, 2018 @ 6:28 p.m.

The casino sucks. Just read the Yelp reviews about this trashy place. If the activists want to close this place down, I have a couple of suggestions. First is to boycott the restaurant partners and ask them to withdraw from the casino. That means boycotting Emerald Seafood, Tony Gwinn’s Sports Pub, Ruby’s Diner, and others. Also get organized to sue the crap out of the place for any DUI injuries or deaths resulting from a visit to their casino. Complain to the California ABC about suspected drunk drivers and call the sheriff every time you see any driver leaving that place that does anything that could be probable cause for drunk driving.

Don’t give up your fight. Use every legal tool and resource to disrupt its business and ultimately make it close. Already people don’t like it. The people that do must be addicted gamblers because there are so many other much more attractive and full-service (hello buffet?) casinos in San Diego. This isn’t about racism or supporting tribes, it’s about a monstrosity that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. It never belonged there and it will be put out of business and bulldozed in due time.


VictorRocha Jan. 31, 2018 @ 8:07 p.m.

Real Estate Results, Marcia Spurgeon's business, has Yelp page too. Overall, the reviews are pretty negative.


tmull Jan. 31, 2018 @ 10:09 p.m.

When the casinos got started in SD County many years ago, it was evident that they were going to be environmental disasters. Large commercial operations in outlying areas would mean loss of rural character, and excessive car trips.

The only solution I heard was for the State to grant to the tribes development rights in or near the cities. This would have earned more money for the tribes, and eliminated the lines of cars on backcountry roads. Rural areas could stay that way.

That plan could still be applied to new and expanded casinos-- if our State politicians were committed to rural preservation and reduced driving.


Visduh Feb. 4, 2018 @ 5:33 p.m.

A few things that come to mind in reading this piece and the voluminous comments in no particular order:

You can describe Jamul in many ways, but "beautiful" has never been the case. Rocky, rugged, brushy--those are words that come to mind. But I'll concede that many of its residents must find some beauty there, which explains their dedication to stopping the casino.

The situation with the highway is very much like what happened when Pala and Pauma went in, with access off I-15 on Highway 76. It was a 1930's, at best, piece of highway that has 20 mph curves and a roller coaster profile past some dairies that are no longer active. Designed for low speed access by limited amounts of traffic, it was and still is a disaster when all the casino traffic hits it. How different is that than the situation on 94? That highway is of an old design, not meant for heavy use, and not to serve an urban area.

Mike Casinelli will, I think, find the description of him as in his late 50's or early 60's rather amusing, maybe a bit flattering. I know him, and he's always been a reasonable guy in my estimation.


Darren Feb. 7, 2018 @ 1:18 p.m.

This is less about Indian rights and the hazards of gaming to those that frequent casinos, and more about what booty the various government agencies get a $hare of.


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