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Thunder Valley thrives despite economy

Plans donation to Auburn hospital
By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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LINCOLN - Thunder Valley Casino has not laid off one employee since it opened its doors on June 9, 2003, but Reno and Las Vegas casinos are feeling the effects of a slumping economy. Fitzgeralds Casino/Hotel in Reno with 475 employees announced it will close on Nov. 30. Circus Circus Hotel Casino in Las Vegas has laid off 60 employees this year due to the economy, according to Associated Press reports. “We’ve never had any layoffs,” said David DeLucia, vice president of casino operations at Thunder Valley. Not only has Thunder Valley with 2,000 employees not had any layoffs, its owners, the United Auburn Indian Community, will make a sizable donation to benefit Auburn. “The United Auburn Indian Community will be making a $1 million donation to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital next week,” said Doug Elmets, public information officer for the casino. “The tribe is very focused on education, and health and wellness.” United Auburn Indian Community has 275 tribal members and wants to invest locally. “Many (tribal members) have gone to Sutter Auburn for medical care since it was originally constructed,” Elmets said. “The tribe believes that philanthropy should start in their home community. That is clearly South Placer County and particularly Auburn.” Currently, Thunder Valley has contracted to have a 24-story hotel with 650 rooms constructed on part of its 49 acres. Construction has already started on the hotel. There will be a nine-story high parking structure with 5,000 spaces. In addition, there will be multiple restaurants and more employees added. “We’ll add an additional 1,200 employees when the construction is completed in 2010,” Elmets said. The dip in hotel occupancy in South Placer County has not been as severe as expected, according to Greg Van Dusen, chief executive officer of Placer Valley Tourism. “For Roseville through three quarters of the year, we’re down only 5 percent in transient occupancy tax for hotels,” Van Dusen said. “We had anticipated a 10 percent decrease. There’s no doubt that it’s down, but we’re still growing.” Van Dusen is grateful for the tourists that Thunder Valley has brought to Placer County and for its altruistic contributions. “We’re very fortunate to have them here,” Van Dusen said. “They’ve very good citizens and do a lot for the area. We do a lot of collaborative tourist promotions with them.” While the economy has slumped, DeLucia admits that Thunder Valley Casino has not been immune from the effects. “People have not stopped gambling, but the frequency isn’t as much,” DeLucia said. “They say people in Sacramento are on ‘staycations.’ They stay at home more.” When asked if he can gauge the increased number of patrons visiting Thunder Valley due to high gasoline prices for gambling trips to Reno casinos, Elmets knows patron preferences. “Clearly we’ve heard from our patrons and others,” Elmets said. “Because of the high cost of gasoline Thunder Valley is clearly more accessible than Reno and South Lake Tahoe. As we head into the winter season, the beauty of Thunder Valley is that it’s on the I-80 corridor between San Francisco and Reno, below the snowline where no chains are required.” Cashing in on that corridor, Jon Bow, Thunder Valley business development manager, talked about busloads of customers coming on Interstate 80. “We get several busloads of people from the Bay Area every day,” Bow said. Mark Neebling, executive director of marketing, has been busy promoting not only the casino, but also Placer County as the place to visit. “This is a great place to get away from the Bay Area,” Neebling said. “There’s Folsom Lake and bass fishing and wineries. Everybody’s in on this including Thunder Valley. We try to get people to come here and stay for four days. It’s more than just a gambling excursion.” Neebling points out the new casino shuttle service that started on Oct. 15 that serves 12 hotels in the Roseville and Rocklin areas. Shuttles depart five times daily, including a stop at the Roseville Galleria.