There was the filling of money machines to replenish the cash cage on Tuesday at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino and even a test run for the buffet restaurant where employees crowded in for lunch to test the food.
The final touches and cleanup are underway for Thursday’s reopening of the casino. It’s been almost 15 months since the federal government and state closed the resort over safety concerns that grew out of rival factions wrestling for control. Now every effort is aimed at the long-awaited reopening.
Normally, New Year’s Eve is one of the bigger days of the year for any restaurant or entertainment venue, said Christian Goode, Chukchansi Gold’s chief operating officer.
It may not turn out that way this weekend at Chukchansi Gold.
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“It’s a very big night, people want to be out and you lead-up market to them for that time period,” he said. “We will not be as busy because we didn’t have that lead-up marketing for it, but normally it’s one of your busier weekends.”
More than the financial importance of the weekend is the opportunity to show the community that the tribe has made progress by opening so quickly after getting federal government and state approval.
The annual payroll before the closure in October 2014 was more than $32 million, much of which goes back into surrounding communities as spending by employees, purchases at local businesses and donations to nonprofits.
About $24 million is paid to bondholders and another $12 million goes back to tribe members and tribal operations. The tribe also has added a $35 million bill to pay bondholders for reopening expenses. Gaming experts estimated that Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino’s annual revenue before the closure was around $100 million.
We will not be as busy because we didn’t have that lead-up marketing for it, but normally it’s one of your busier weekends.
Christian Goode, chief operating officer, Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino
Slot machines ready
On Tuesday the feeling in the 56,000-square-foot gaming area and restaurants was a combination of anticipation, cheerfulness and relief.
New slot machines featuring the disparate visages of Britney Spears, the “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Big Bang Theory” were interspersed among the roughly 1,700 slot machines ready for ringing into action .
About half the hotel rooms will be ready this weekend, but all 400-plus will be open for the Jan. 15 grand opening. Vendors will be on site to provide technical support in case of potential glitches, Goode said.
Goode said the turnaround time was fast, but much of the preparation work was in progress and nearly done. Restarting, he explained, is easier than a new opening.
Making the reopening easier was a group of former employees who are excited to return to work. About 850 workers will start up this weekend, growing to 1,000 for the grand opening, Goode said.
“A vast majority here are former employees, that’s what made reopening so much easier,” he said. “We had a trained, experienced workforce immediately available.”
Unemployed, now ready to work
David Porrazzo, a slot technician who worked at the casino for 11 years before the October 2014 untimely closure, returned to Chukchansi three weeks ago after being laid off when a previous restart was slowed in September.
The waiting and worrying was difficult since both he and his girlfriend worked at Chukchansi Gold, he said.
“We went through a lot of rough patches,” Porrazzo said.
That was a tough time and it would have been even tougher if I hadn’t been in the military. That’s what’s been helping keep me afloat.
Moua Yang, Chukchansi Gold security officer who returned to work this week
He said he survived with unemployment assistance and doing security work for “about half what I was making” at the casino.
The first layoffs a year ago were the hardest. When Porrazzo returned over the summer, he was more optimistic following the second layoff.
“The first time around I didn’t think they were ever going to get this done,” he said. “The second time I was very positive” the layoff wouldn’t last long.
Security officer Moua Yang also was grateful to return to work.
It could not have come at a better time.
Yang, a father of three with a fourth child on the way, said he joined the Army National Guard and underwent military training to earn money. The training ended over the summer.
“That was a tough time and it would have been even tougher if I hadn’t been in the military,” he said. “That’s what’s been helping keep me afloat.”
The teamwork he learned in the military is similar to the job at the casino.
“I like the work environment here and I like the work,” he said. “There is a lot of team effort … my fellow officers will back me up and I would do the same for them.”
Outside the hotel, longtime patron and Coarsegold resident Lisa Orr was eager to return and wanted to make hotel reservations.
Losing the casino and its amenities was a major loss to the community, she said.
“When things went wrong, it really affected a lot of people,” Orr said. “I’ve known a lot of people who were affected.”
She hopes the tribe can move forward and the operation will remain the same as before.
“It’s really top notch,” she said. “All the restaurants are good and the rooms are gorgeous … we’ve never been unhappy. The people who work here are very generous and cordial.”