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Palm Springs Casino Plans Gets Mixed Reception

November 23, 1992

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ An Indian tribe is bringing a $20 million gambling hall to this fabled desert resort where fortunes fell when Hollywood celebrities quit flocking to its sunshine and swimming pools every weekend.

The casino makes Palm Springs, population 41,000, the latest of many financially ailing communities around the country to turn to gambling, but with an added twist because it’s much closer than Las Vegas for Los Angeles residents.

″If gaming becomes widespread in the state of California, I don’t think it’s good news for the state of Nevada,″ said Bill Bible, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

The casino will be built for the Agua Caliente Indians, a tribe with large land holdings in Palm Springs, by Caesars World Inc. Inside an 80,000-square- foot complex, gamblers will be able to play card games and bingo-like games, as well as off-track horse race betting.

It won’t have slot machines or table games available in Las Vegas, but its convenience may be competitive. Palm Springs is a 2 1/2 -hour drive from Los Angeles. It takes four to five hours to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Some residents welcomed the plan.

″This will give the town a little stimulus,″ said Rico Picone, a hair salon owner who described current economic conditions as the worst in 30 years.

But resident Jerry Cohen said many will hate having a casino in town.

″A lot of these people who retired here are not going to like this,″ he said. ″If they’d wanted that kind of lifestyle, they would have moved to Las Vegas.″

Palm Springs became legendary oasis during the Golden Age of Hollywood, when moguls and celebrities gathered regularly to socialize.

Things began changing in the late 1970s, when Hollywood lost interest and desert development outside city limits boomed, giving visitors more, and often cheaper, vacation options.

A possible downside was noted by by Police Capt. Bill Valkenburg.

″Organized crime is always a consideration,″ Valkenburg said.

Susan Peterson worried about drunkenness, prostitution, muggings and property values.

Two Indian gambling halls already are in operation nearby, drawing thousands of gamblers.

Bible, the Nevada gaming official, said his fears of California competition were long-range.

″If they are allowed slot machines, the next thing the machines will be allowed on other (Indian) reservations,″ he said. ″Then the state will consider legalizing it to draw revenue, especially with the fiscal problems it’s having.″

Others discounted its possible effect on Las Vegas.

″They still have to get a compact, and the state has been against allowing slot machines,″ said Alan Feldman, spokesman for Mirage Resorts Inc. ″It’s extraordinarily unlikely it will have any impact on Las Vegas.″

Roger Lee, chief financial officer for Caesars World, said the company is not lobbying California to allow casino gambling, but wants to manage the Agua Caliente gambling hall in case restrictions are relaxed someday.

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