Casinos launch all-you-can-compete lobster wars


The claws are coming out. Lobster claws, that is.

The latest battleground in the San Diego area’s cutthroat casino industry is the buffet, where all-you-can-eat lobster has become the weapon of choice to lure customers.

The luxury crustacean has joined swanky new hotels, spas and pool complexes as ammunition in an expansion arms race, where an estimated $1 billion is currently being spent to enlarge and upgrade six of the region’s 10 casinos.

“Lobster wars heat up,” proclaimed an announcement from Pechanga Resort & Casino introducing its new Thursday night “Lobster & Seafood Extravaganza” that kicks off Jan. 11.

The $44.99 whole Maine lobster buffet special coincides with the impending opening of Pechanga’s expanded resort. Its new 568-room hotel tower and two-story spa will have a soft opening on Dec. 22 while the 4.5-acre pool complex will be completed in time for a grand opening event in late March.

“A lot of casinos locally have been doing it — Pala, Valley View, a few further south (in San Diego) … and the feedback has been that they’re pretty successful,” Duane Owen, executive chef for Pechanga, said of the lobster buffets.

“As we open the expansion, we were looking to draw more people in to see it and we said, ‘here’s a way.’ This is a great time to pull it out and see what we can do. And it’s really about the customer demand, after hearing about the other casinos.”

Valley View Casino & Hotel has long been associated with its endless Maine lobster buffets every night. Among the other casinos featuring all-you-can-compete lobster buffets are Pala Casino Spa & Resort on Tuesday and Thursday nights and Viejas Casino & Resort’s all-day special every Friday.

Barona Resort & Casino recently launched “Lobster Wednesday,” where lobster dishes are offered at nearly every one the resort’s 11 eateries, from lobster bouillabaisse at Barona Oaks Steakhouse to a lobster roll at the 24-hour Sage Cafe to lobster quesadillas served gameside on the casino floor and three different preparations at the buffet.

“It was inspired by the success of our Lobster Wednesday offering in the buffet, which was wildly popular,” said Ed Fasulo, Barona’s vice president of food and beverage.

“So we decided to expand Lobster Wednesday into all of our dining venues property-wide and our players love it. In fact, it became such a big hit that we also offer Lobster Wednesday in our staff dining room for our 3,100 staff members.”

Owen said Pechanga might follow suit and serve lobster dishes at several of the resort’s 13 restaurants.

The native New Englander said Pechanga is anticipating the Thursday lobster buffet will draw between 1,100 to 1,500 customers, the same number as a typical Saturday night. He said Pechanga will differentiate itself from its competitors by offering fresh, whole Maine lobsters that will be flown in live Wednesday nights and on customers’ plates the next day.

“Because I’m from where I’m from, fresh seafood is pretty important to me. How you do it makes a difference,” he said. “It’s so sweet and delicious. If it’s done fresh and right, it’s a beautiful thing.”