Plans are in the works to add 215 hotel rooms, a new parking garage, more gaming floor space and other improvements at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez.
The proposed expansion was outlined this week in a letter from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, which owns and operates the casino and resort on its federally recognized reservation, to Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, chairman of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
The tribe hopes to add to the existing 106 guest rooms and 17 luxury suites at its resort hotel, which is part of the 190,000-square-foot complex at 3400 E. Highway 246, located within the Chumash’s 138-acre reservation.
Lavagnino said plans also include building a new parking garage for 750 vehicles, putting in a food court and updated buffet, and widening the gaming floor by 60,000 square feet.
Adding more machines to the 18-or-older, 24-hour gaming floor — already boasting 2,000 slot machines, dozens of table games, bingo, poker and more — is not part of plans, since the casino already has the maximum number allowed by the state, said Sam Cohen, government and legal specialist with the Chumash.
Cohen said the letter simply serves as advance notice to let the county know of pending improvements, which don’t yet have official plans or a time frame for construction.
The tribal compact with the state requires the Chumash to conduct an environmental review and to make a “good faith effort” to incorporate the comments of county officials and the public into its final design, Cohen said.
Once plans have been developed, locals will be able to voice comments at a future Board of Supervisors meeting, as well as a second meeting hosted in or near the casino, he said.
“The county has requested transparency from the tribe, and we are simply letting them know of our potential improvements in advance,” Cohen said.
The letter doesn’t describe whether improvements will be built up or out, but Cohen said he believes the design will be within the current casino footprint.
Lavagnino, who wasn’t on the board when the casino opened in 2004, said he planned to meet with county CEO Mona Miyasato this week to determine how much say the county actually has on the project.
In the letter, Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta said the original hotel was dramatically downsized during the tribal environmental review process.
“While we were trying to address the concerns of the community, we did ourselves a disservice by building a hotel much smaller than the market dictated,” Armenta wrote. “As a result, we are now faced with the problem of not having enough rooms to accommodate all the guests at our gaming facility, and not enough rooms to address the potential growth in the market.
"The improvements we are considering would address these issues.”
Lavagnino guessed gamers and gamblers would welcome changes with open arms, but said it was possible neighbors might be less enthusiastic.
In particular, those already upset the tribe is going around county government to place Camp 4 in a federal trust by having legislators introduce a bill to the same effect.
HR 3313 would take the 1,400 acres of agriculture land adjacent to the reservation into trust, eliminating it from county tax rolls and oversight processes, and has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
“I see it as a business,” Lavagnino said of expansion. “If they’re adding 215 hotel rooms, they obviously have a business model that’s working.”
The tribe opened the original Chumash Casino in 1994 in a small, stucco building, adding two temporary buildings in subsequent years before the buildings were consolidated into one complex in 2004.