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Pala Casino Spa & Resort


Pala Casino Spa & Resort has been a success ever since the Pala Band of Mission Indians opened it in 2001, and it wasn’t long before the tribe chose to expand the property. Within two years of the casino’s grand opening, the tribe added a 507-room hotel, a 10,000-square-foot spa and an outdoor concert venue. CEO William Bembenek has been with the property since virtually the very beginning, and he says the tribe repeatedly has confirmed its commitment to delivering the most luxurious and exciting resort and gaming experience in the San Diego area with more expansions. 

In 2009, for example, Pala Casino Spa & Resort added a new parking structure, 30,000 additional square feet of gaming space and expanded its buffet to accommodate 630  people. The expansion also included a new Sushi Sake Japanese restaurant, a 15-table poker room and a new high limit gaming area. The tribe committed more than $100 million to that expansion even though the majority of the industry was pulling back on expansion plans due to the recession. Bembenek says the tribe’s vision despite the difficult times ended up paying off huge dividends for the resort. “It really helped us during the recession because it allowed us to see visitation increase at a time when most facilities were seeing patronage decline,” he says. 

Today, Pala Casino Spa & Resort is embarking upon another ambitious expansion project that will add several new attractions to the property’s already-winning formula. In a marketplace where resorts and casinos are constantly trying to outdo each other to attract a more demanding customer base, Bembenek says Pala Casino Spa & Resort is creating something extremely special. “It’s raised the bar for all properties in Southern California,” he says. 

Full Features

Bembenek says Pala Casino is adding new dimensions to the property with its latest expansion, diversifying the entertainment and dining options. Although the resort still offers a highly competitive gaming experience for guests, Bembenek says Pala Casino Spa & Resort wants them to have an exceptional experience in every aspect of the property. “Our focus has always been on offering a fully rounded resort property, not just a casino,” he says. 

One of the biggest additions being made to the property is the resort’s new outdoor concert facility, which  seats more than  2,200.. Underneath the stage, the resort is building an underground wine cave that will be part of the property’s newest restaurant addition, CAVE. CAVE opened May 23 featuring a menu created by Chef Luciano Cibelli, who took Pala’s Mama’s Cucina Italiana restaurant to national acclaim.  “We’re very excited about it – it’s getting a lot of buzz in the marketplace,” Bembenek says.

Another new addition to the resort’s culinary choices is Luis Rey’s, a casual indoor/outdoor lounge that features live music and a wide selection of appetizers that combine the best of Mexican and U.S. cuisine. Luis Rey’s features live entertainment on weekends and holidays.  

These new options join the resort’s already established restaurant offerings, which include The Oak Room, a world-class steakhouse; Noodles, which features a pan-Asian menu; and the Pala Café, which offers California-style cuisine in a bistro setting.

Of course, the property’s casino remains one of its biggest attractions, and Pala Casino Spa & Resort offers a gaming experience that rivals any that guests could find anywhere else. The casino features 2,000 state-of-the-art slot and video machines, as well as 87 table games and a poker room that hosts regular tournaments.

Best of the Best

The changes going on at Pala Casino Spa & Resort may not be doubling the property’s size, but Bembenek says they will definitely go a long way to attract more guests. He says this is emblematic of how the tribe has managed the property from the beginning, concentrating on the quality of its offerings rather than the quantity. “Our focus isn’t necessarily to be the biggest, but definitely to be the best,” Bembenek says. 

That focus has become more important than ever recently, as the resort and gaming industry has come out of the recession being much more competitive than it was before. Bembenek says one of the byproducts of the recession is that it forced many properties to become much sharper about how they operated, making the overall competition stronger. Additionally, most of the resort’s competition has become more aggressive with their promotions, and the typical guest has taken note. “The resort consumer has become obviously a lot more discerning and demanding,” Bembenek says.

Pala Casino Spa & Resort is responding to this trend in part with its latest expansion, but the resort also is working harder to offer the best experience all around. Bembenek says the resort has an aggressive schedule of live entertainment for the summer, including such acts as Whitesnake, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Chubby Checker, Huey Lewis and the News, Alice in Chains and country mega-stars Rascal Flatts. 

High Hopes

Pala Casino Resort & Spa understands guests have a choice when it comes to their entertainment dollar, and the resort is doing everything it can to entice them into spending their hard-earned time and money on the property. 

The resort has stepped up its promotions for the summer, including giving away a 2015 GMC Terrain SUV every Friday in June. The good news, Bembenek says, is that for the first time in several years, people in Southern California are spending more time and money on entertainment. 

“That bodes well for our property in particular,” he says. “I’d like to think that there is the probability that there will be some organic growth in the marketplace for the first time in the last five years.” 

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