Valley View Rolls Out the Red Carpet
February 6, 2012
Joe Navarro leads a visitor over the gaming floor of Valley View Casino, past clanging,
blinking slot machines, and talks about how crowds move. Three million people flowed
through this North San Diego County venue in 2011. Navarro, CEO of the San Pasqual
Casino Development Group Inc., which runs the place, is a retired San Diego Police
Department officer, and points out details with a policeman's eye for crowd control
He shows off a million dollars — piled bundles of $100 notes — behind thick glass
near the casino's only entrance. Go ahead, try to move the case, he encourages a
visitor. The case does not budge.
More than once he challenges a visitor to find the spots where Valley View added
to its buildings as it grew. Seamless transitions seem to be a point of pride for
Navarro. The region's other casinos have put up additions, only to be saddled with
floor plans where a visitor can't move logically.
"Can't get there from here," says Navarro.
As a business, Valley View seems to be getting there from here. The casino and its
1-year-old hotel sit on the San Pasqual reservation, northeast of Escondido and
outside the tiny burg of Valley Center.
The businesses do not publicly disclose revenue, but their managers say that they
have done very well, and have even seen business improve year over year.
Close Competition Valley View has a reason to hold its financials close to the vest.
"Right down the road we have the largest name in gaming on the planet," Navarro
said, referring to Caesars Entertainment Corp., which runs the Harrah's casino on
the neighboring Rincon reservation.
San Diego County has 10 American Indian casinos. "Everybody took a hit in the recession,"
Several things, however, helped Valley View. It was able to increase the volume
of people going through the building. "Volume helped," Navarro said. Valley View
was also able to serve its clients with a relatively small staff of 1,000 people
who worked very hard, the executive said.
Then there were the slot machines. In 2009, Valley View got past a regulatory roadblock
and received permission to install 429 more, to bring its gambling hall up to 2,000
machines. "That helped in the economic downturn," Navarro said. Valley View also
has 26 table games.
One year ago the business opened its 108-room hotel, which lets it draw overnight
guests. Valley View is now reaching into the Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and
San Bernardino county markets with print, radio and television advertising.
Bruce Howard, general manager of the casino and hotel, said the business' core competency
is offering value to its customers. Valley View advertising is not complete without
mentioning that its slot machines are "certified loose" by an industry magazine.
The venue also touts its food service, particularly its lobster buffet. Valley View
buys 600,000 pounds of lobster and 200,000 pounds of crab per year, a spokeswoman
said. The lobster buffet is a "calling card" for Valley View, said Dennis Conrad,
president of Raving Consulting Co. of Reno, Nev. "Not many places do what I would
call a signature promotion," Conrad said. The Golden Gate Hotel & Casino in Las
Vegas has its shrimp cocktail, he said, while the Ellis Island Casino & Brewery
in Las Vegas has its inexpensive steak dinner.
"I'm going to assume they lose money on the lobster buffet," Conrad said regarding
Valley View. "It's a loss leader."
Valley View also encourages people to join its Players Club, which allows for joint
marketing opportunities and discounts on certain merchants' products. A colored
light system on each slot machine lets floor staff know whether a visitor is playing
with a loyalty card. If the light is green, the visitor is a member. If it's red,
the floor staff can talk up the benefits of joining.
Satisfying Repeat Customers
Customers tend to come back. Howard said the average customer makes the trip to
Valley View 27 times a year. Valley View gets them back by being clean, safe and
friendly, Howard said.
It also gets them back by fighting for attention in a crowded field. San Diego County's
casinos are not shy about publicizing themselves. And north of the county line there
are casinos that exceed the once-standard limit of 2,000 slot machines.
To spread its name further, Valley View struck a naming rights deal on the 13,500-seat
indoor arena in San Diego's Midway district in the fall of 2010. The deal runs five
years with an option to renew. Terms were not disclosed; in 2010, the deal was estimated
to be worth at least $1.5 million.
Getting the naming rights "has been fantastic for us," said Navarro, adding that
Valley View Casino Center has "established us with name recognition in the heart
of San Diego." Not only did the deal create a partnership with venue operator AEG,
Navarro said it helped the gaming company establish relationships with other sports
arena stakeholders, including the City of San Diego and the Hahn family.
More recently, Valley View's corporate parent got a good piece of business news.
The San Pasqual Casino Development Group said it refinanced $215 million in bonds
at "an unprecedented low interest rate." Though specific terms were not released,
Navarro said the new financing gives Valley View "flexibility to go in any number
of directions." KeyBank NA and Merrill Lynch & Co. (a subsidiary of Bank of America
Corp.) led the financing. Joining them were Compass Bank, Comerica Bank, PNC Bank,
Capital One and Manufacturers Bank.
Visions for a Better Future
So what direction is Valley View headed?
Casino executives say they are always planning for more. For example, they
are thinking of a bus depot on the casino grounds.
Valley View offers bus transportation for 1,000 people daily. Its buses fan out
to areas as far as 150 miles north and 50 miles south of the casino. The business
recently struck a deal with Simon Property Group L.P. for exclusive use of six Simon
malls in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties as bus terminals. They include
Fashion Valley and Carlsbad Premium Outlets.
Valley View might be headed other places, but Navarro and Howard aren't tipping
their hands. "I have a vision," Navarro says cryptically. "I have a grand plan.
But I don't know if we'll be able to carry it out."