The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has won approval from federal regulators to shift land to tribal status, meaning the group can proceed with building a casino resort on the property, located in Cathedral City, Calif. near Palm Springs.

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians won approval to build a third Palm Springs casino. (Image: Desert Sun)

Agua Caliente is promising to start construction on the gaming venue, which will be its third in the Palm Springs region, in a matter of weeks. The band of Cahuilla Indians acquired 12.5 acres at the corner of E. Palm Canyon Drive and Date Palm Drive in 2017.

The tribe petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal regulator for tribal gaming properties, to change the status of that property to tribal from fee. That classification shift, approved earlier this week, paves the way for a new gaming venue.

This project will create jobs, revitalize an undeveloped downtown property, and support Cathedral City’s economic development efforts,” said Tribal chairman Jeff Grubbe in a statement.

As part of the original property purchase agreement, Agua Caliente has already contributed $5.5 million to Cathedral City for the construction of a new fire station.

Plenty Of Competition

The tribe already owns two gaming properties in the Palm Springs area – the Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa in Rancho Mirage. The latter of those two properties has over 71,000 square feet of gaming space.

Situated along Interstate 10 (I-10), Palm Springs is considered part of Riverside County, an area that’s houses to the bulk of Southern California’s casinos. That county is home to tribal behemoths such as the 195,000 square foot Morongo and the 200,000 square foot Pechanga, two of the largest gaming properties in the US.

The region defined as Southern California (Bakersfield and areas located south of there) is home to about a third of the Golden State’s approximately 60 tribal gaming venues, but roughly two-thirds of the state’s population.

Tribal operators in Riverside County consistently tussle with Las Vegas in an effort to keep California gamblers from crossing state lines. On a geographic basis, that competition intensifies for venues located along or near I-15, because that’s the primary driving route for Southern Californians heading to Sin City.

Cathedral City, where Agua Caliente is building its newest casino, is just over four hours by car from Las Vegas.

Removing An Eyesore

Cathedral City policymakers appear to be in favor of the Agua Caliente plan, because the land owned by the tribe has been vacant for over a decade, providing no more than an “eyesore,” according to Mayor Mark Carnevale.

“Having a brand new gaming and entertainment center as a major anchor to our Downtown Arts and Entertainment District will spur more interest and development, provide quality entertainment for our residents and visitors, and generate additional revenue for city services,” said Carnevale.

Agua Caliente estimates that the Cathedral City casino will have 500 slot machines and eight table games, making it smaller by those metrics than the tribe’s Rancho Mirage venue, which has nearly 1,500 slots and 48 table games.