Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Twin Pine becomes county's largest gaming facility; celebrates grand opening

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The new Twin Pine Casino & Hotel is celebrating its grand opening June 4, through 7, 2009. Courtesy photo.


 



MIDDLETOWN – This week the county's largest tribal casino will celebrate its official grand opening.


The newly expanded Twin Pine Casino & Hotel is a dramatic and ambitious project that tribal officials hope will draw visitors not just from around Lake County but from neighboring Napa and Sonoma, and which will partner with local wineries to make the area a wine-themed destination.


Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians spent $42.5 million on the new 107,000-square-foot casino and hotel, which marks its grand opening this week, from June 4 through 7.


The celebration includes two free shows by comedian Sinbad, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 4 and Friday, June 5, and more than $60,000 in prize giveaways over the four-day period.


The casino opened last Thanksgiving, with the hotel opening in March, said marketing director Phil Davis. The project, which includes the Manzanita Restaurant and Grapevine Bar & Lounge, took 18 months to complete.


There currently are 12 card tables and 520 gaming machines on the floor, said Davis, with plans to raise the number of machines to more than 600 in the future.


The 49,000-square-foot casino is open 24 hours, seven days a week. The hotel, event center and office comprises the rest of the new square footage.


With the expansion completed, Twin Pine now becomes the largest gaming facility in Lake County, about 14,000 square feet larger than the casino and hotel at Robinson Rancheria Resort & Casino in Nice.


Debra Sommerfield, Lake County's deputy administrative officer for economic development, said the county is in negotiations with Twin Pine to pay transient occupancy – or bed – tax on the hotel.


She said Robinson Rancheria and Konocti Vista casinos currently have agreements with the county to make quarterly payments to the county in exchange for economic development and tourism promotion services. Konocti Vista pays $20,000 annually, and Robinson Rancheria $36,000 each year.


Twin Pine's new casino has a larger-than-life feel. Arching over the the gaming floor are massive exposed beams coupled with enormous grape-cluster chandeliers. There's a functioning water wheel as well as a large wooden storage tank. Wine barrels adorn the building, which also features intricate brick and woodwork. The large rounded entryway is meant to simulate the inside of a giant wine tank, said Davis.


Emphasizing its wine theme, one of the important additions to the casino's offerings is a wine bar, which opened last week. There JoAnn Schwartz – who recently came over from Langtry Estate and Vineyard where she worked as tasting room manager – will put on wine tastings and educate visitors about the surrounding wine regions.


Langtry also is producing for Twin Pine its own labeled vintages – a 2007 Chardonnay and 2006 Petite Sirah.


Davis said it's the only casino with a wine theme, and they're hoping to partner with local wineries to promote the region. “We're definitely in the wine business,” he said.


He noted the casino also has a great location to draw visitors from all over the North Coast and elsewhere.


Over at the three-story hotel, there are 60 nonsmoking rooms, including three elegant two-room suites with dining areas and kitchenettes; the suites are large enough to host a few families at once. All of the rooms have free Internet access, refrigerators, safes, in-room movies and video games for children. Even with the casino next door, the building has been soundproofed so that no sound from the gaming floor filters through.


The hotel also has artistic touches created by tribal members, such as photos of Pomo baskets produced and framed by Tribal Vice Chair Mike Nitka.


The casino, hotel and the 15,000-square-foot events center – the latter of which is still under renovation – take up about eight acres of the 110-acre Middletown Rancheria, which was formed in 1906, said Nitka. The tribe currently has 99 adults members and 77 children.

 

 

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The new casino has 520 gaming machines in a 49,000-square-foot space. The hotel and offices bring up the new facility's size to 107,000 square feet. Courtesy photo.
 

 

 


Agreement with Connecticut tribe creates new casino


Nitka said the tribe is very proud of the new project has created 70 jobs, bringing the casino's total job count to about 270, making it one of the south county's largest employers.


The original 15,000-square-foot tent casino was opened in 1994 and named for a twin pine found on the property that tribal members took as a symbol of strength.


Nitka said the tribe decided about five years ago that it wanted to build the new casino and hotel. It had access to bond funding, but Nitka said the tribe was against going that route.


Instead, they went to a tribal finance conference in Las Vegas several years ago, and met representatives from the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, which owns the 300,000-square-foot Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn., and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Penn.


The Mohegan Tribe agreed to underwrite Middletown Rancheria's project, essentially guaranteeing part of the financing, said Nitka. By forming that funding partnership instead of using the bond funding, Nitka said the tribe lessened its loan repayments by 14 years.


There are more plans ahead, said Nitka.


Middletown Rancheria will have an option in two and a half years to refinance, at which time it could increase the number of rooms in its hotel or even add other amenities such as a theater or bowling alley.


What must come first, however, is a parking structure, said Nitka, which would be part of the project's phase two.


He said if the community sees a parking garage go up, they'll know “the other shoe is about to drop.”


Casino officials say they're getting off to a great start.


Davis said the hotel's occupancy has ranged between 50 and 80 percent, far above the 30-percent rate expected for new facilities.


The casino also is doing well, said Davis.


“Even though the economy is so bad, it's the best year we've ever had,” he said, noting an especially strong January and February.


The tribe is taking it slow, knowing it has big mortgage payments ahead of it. But Nitka said they're continuing to provide health and educational services to tribal members.


They've also continued a campaign of community giving, donating more than $100,000 to individuals and groups in the last few years. Last year alone they made $50,000 in donations.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

 

 

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One of the hotel's three large deluxe suites. Courtesy photo.


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