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Casino upgrades part of plans to boost local economy

April 20, 2012

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Tribal Council Member Jess Paco, Chamber President Debi Yerke, Secretary/Treasurer Earleen Williams, Chamber Executive Director Tawni Thomson, Tribal Vice-Chairperson Jasmine Andreas, Inyo Supervisor Rick Pucci, Chad Delgado, Chamber Treasurer Sally Symons, immediate past president of the Chamber David Heffner, Mayor David Stottlemyre, City Council Member Laura Smith and PPC General Manager William McDonald. Photo by Dave Hodge

Paiute Palace Casino staff and management were joined by representatives from the Bishop Paiute Tribe Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Bishop City Council for the April 11 renovation completion ceremony. Their message was resoundingly unanimous, with all expressing high hopes that the greatly-anticipated grand opening of the new Paiute Palace Lounge will herald a new chapter in PPC’s ongoing reinvention efforts, one that will offer more: more comfort, entertainment and culinary variety for its customers and more income, commerce and jobs for the Tribe and the greater community of Bishop.
General Manager Bill MacDonald opened the ceremony with a brief welcoming speech which touched upon the sweeping nature of casino renovations in general, highlighted a few renovation details and introduced the officials present. And of course, MacDonald added that PPC would soon be offering “adult beverages” to enhance customers’ dining and gaming experience.
MacDonald later explained that the lounge is now open for general use -- the coffee bar is available all day and popcorn is served in the afternoon – and the lounge is immediately available for private lunches and other functions. He anticipates that the bar will be serving beer and wine by summer. In the meantime, the casino continues with the application process for a full-fledged liquor license which will eventually allow for the operation of a full-service bar.
MacDonald later explained the extensive licensing process; because PPC is a tribal entity the process is longer than usual. The process started more than a month ago and PPC has met all state requirements. Next, the casino must create a liquor ordinance, which, once rubber-stamped by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Sacramento, will go to Washington for final federal approval.
“We believe our renovations will position the Paiute Palace as one of the premier entertainment destinations in the Owens Valley and something the entire community will enjoy and take pride in. It will enable us to provide our customers the best possible gaming experience and customer service,” said Tribal Chairman Dale “Chad” Delgado, Jr., in the renovation completion ceremony invitation.
With 30 years in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Laughlin and now Bishop, MacDonald knows the importance of teamwork. “We listen to our customers and team members to get the really important (details right),” he said, which has resulted in upgraded amenities. For example, since 80 percent of casino patrons use the rear entrance, MacDonald explained, the casino has established plenty of handicapped parking in the rear lot and installed a power door at the back entrance.
The rear entrance leads to a lobby that has had a complete makeover, including the addition of photos dating back to 1916 of ancestral tribal council members.
PPC’s facelift includes the Tu-Ku-Novie Restaurant, Players Club, gaming floor and all other public areas. New staff uniforms will match the new color scheme.
New services accompany the new look. PPC Food and Beverage Director Bob Mitton, who brought 30 years of experience in the business when he joined the staff five years ago, explained that the lounge will offer happy hour, live entertainment and food as well as cocktails.
On a philosophical note, Kitchen Supervisor David Corning, who has been with PPC for 10 years, added, “You never know what will happen until it happens (but, I) hope it brings in business for the restaurant and casino.” He went on to say that, with the addition of alcoholic beverages, aspects of food and beverage staff responsibilities will become more technical, including things as basic as having to card people, which dining staff never had to do before.
The addition of the cocktail lounge requires the addition of staff as well. PPC will hire bartenders, bar backs, bar supervisors, cocktail and restaurant servers and lounge security officers as well as an additional gaming floor security clerk and Players Club clerk. Approximately 30 new employees will be added to fill the daily three-shift lounge schedule.
Furthermore, the existing menu will change and expand, explained Chef Robert Vance, saying that he hopes the lounge will “bring more of an upscale beat to the restaurant overall.” Vance plans to “spice it up a little bit,” sticking to the traditional lounge appetizers “but bringing a new fusion to them, (adding) a little bit of a twist,.”
If the renovation completion ceremony menu is any example of what future lounge diners can expect, Vance can expect the same steady stream of compliments he was given at the April 11 ceremony. Councilmember Laura Smith summed up the consensus opinion of the luncheon guests: “It was absolutely delicious.”
Behind the scenes, a less flashy but equally crucial aspect of preparations is ongoing – Alcohol Beverage Control training. Security Director Lawrence Sharkey, Jr., who recently became a certified ABC trainer, explained, “Each individual employee gets a two-hour class on responsible server training” and they have been “very enthusiastic.” Key surveillance, security and management personnel receive additional special training which is “more intensive because of their responsible to oversee team members.”
PPC card dealer Darryl Bacoch gave examples of situations that the mandatory ABC training prepares staff to handle adeptly. They will be able to discern whether to continue serving alcoholic beverages to a customer, he said, how to establish limits, how to care for inebriated customers, and when and how to escort them out of the casino if necessary.
Gaming floor staff will work in tandem with supervisors, security and administrative staff to maintain a safe and enjoyable environment for all patrons, Bacoch explained. Casino staff will even go so far as to provide a ride home for inebriated customers who cannot safely drive.
Sharkey anticipates that the entire 140-member PPC staff will be trained by May 1.
All of these improvements foreshadow yet more expansive goals for the casino’s future. Bishop Tribal Administrator Gary Bacock said that recent renovations are “one of many steps to improving what we offer to the greater community” by encouraging a wider range of clientele. He went on to say that as the casino continues to improve and add services, “the bigger picture is (to make) this an ultimate destination for all types of tourists, provide economic opportunities and become a good employer for the community.”
Bacock spoke of future plans-in-the-making: to build a casino hotel, to attract “the right investors,” to host conventions and accommodate tour-package visitors and other large groups. He envisions the casino offering full services to high-end fishing, hunting, petroglyph and cultural tour package consumers, for example, bringing “a new crowd to the whole Owens Valley (to) make this a destination. Possibilities are restricted only to the imagination.”
As it is, the renovated casino “has a cleaner, more contemporary look,” added Jasmine Andreas, the vice chairman of the Tribe. Andreas went on to say that she, too, hopes the casino will become a resort venue, bringing “more revenue which will be helpful not only for the Tribe but for Bishop as a whole.”
Citycouncil member Smith echoed those sentiments, expressing her appreciation for the Tribe’s continued investment in the casino, not only for the sake of “our tourists but also (because) a lot of community members like to come out and enjoy the facility. But I’m excited about what I’m hearing the future might bring.” Instead of people “just passing by and stopping in” the casino would become “a destination point,” she said.
And for Bishop as a whole, that would mean “more.”

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