Openings, renovations move forward at area’s casinos

Jamul Casino has opened The Rooftop.
Jamul Casino has opened The Rooftop, a 10,000-square-foot, open-air event venue atop its indoor gaming area.
(Courtesy photo)

Here’s what’s new at casinos around the county


With health and safety measures being at the forefront, San Diego County’s 10 tribal casinos have nonetheless managed to move forward with space additions, renovations and revitalized culinary offerings.

Up on a rooftop at Jamul Casino

Jamul Casino has opened a 10,000-square-foot, open-air event venue atop its indoor gaming area. The Rooftop has a 500-person capacity and can be booked for corporate parties, all kinds of celebrations and year-round weddings.

During the pandemic, capacity has been capped at 50 percent. The open-air wedding venue, though, has been a lifeline to couples who had postponed their ceremonies earlier this year, said Scott Bauer, Jamul Casino’s chief marketing officer.

“We have special packages for brides, and we currently aren’t charging a rental fee for the space,” Bauer said. “It’s fortuitous that The Rooftop is a unique, VIP-style venue that is also outdoors.”

Along with impressive natural panoramas of the nearby Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve, the open-air venue offers full bar service, resort-style furnishings, an advanced audiovisual system and state-of-the-art flexibility. The space has a “floating floor” with removable tiles produced by Los Angeles-based Tile Tech. Numerous amenities are moveable, including a large, horizontal fire feature, cabanas, furniture, fans, misters and custom partition panels.

In addition, a unique, vertical glass wall that surrounds the venue (made by Swedish company Svalson) is a “sliding window” system that can be raised or lowered. The Rooftop is covered for all-season flexibility with a motorized, pivoting, louvered pergola (by StruXure). This technology offers access to sunlight and fresh air, and to a completely weather-tight option during rain or less-than-ideal conditions.

The AV system boasts 33 speakers and subwoofers. A high-quality sound zone can be created around a teak dance floor or in other areas in the space. There’s also a 16-by-6-foot portable LED wall available for video and graphics.

The Rooftop isn’t open to the public. It has its own private, red-carpet entrance and elevator that goes directly from the valet parking area to the venue.

Jamul Casino will also host New Year’s Eve events. The Rooftop will host two performances (6 and 8:30 p.m., $150 per person) by an Elton John tribute artist. And for a New Year’s Eve dinner at the casino’s Prime Cut eatery, Rick Ellis will sing from the Frank Sinatra catalog for two seatings (5 and 8 p.m., $125 per person).

Pala’s new gaming room

Pala Casino Spa Resort has opened a new, non-smoking Asian Gaming Room staffed by an executive host. The room’s décor is inspired by Asian culture and design elements include table games adorned with bamboo green felts and lotus flower accents. Gaming options include minibaccarat, double-deck blackjack, face-up pai gow poker and queen’s dragon pai gow poker.

Pala also now has Kurt Hauser serving as its executive chef. Previously at Pechanga Resort Casino, Hauser has 37 years of culinary service under his toque, and has also worked at the Rams Hill Golf Club, Borrego Springs Resort, the Eugene Country Club, La Casa Del Zorro Desert Resort and was the executive chef at Morongo Casino Resort.

The beef at Sycuan

The AAA four diamond steakhouse Bull and Bourbon reopened at Sycuan Casino Resort on Nov. 11. The eatery has a new, expanded menu, with a 36-ounce tomahawk ribeye and a 22-ounce porterhouse. Non-steak options include jumbo lump crabcakes and hand-cut steak fries. Bull and Bourbon has a Wednesday night Surf and Turf Special for $29 (filet mignon and lobster tail). The steakhouse, which has an immense collection of bourbons, single-malt Scotches and blended whiskeys, is open Wednesdays through Fridays. Reservations are recommended.

Sycuan also opened a new restaurant earlier this year — the indoor-outdoor Viewpoint Neighborhood Kitchen. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a patio area provide sweeping views of the surrounding valley. Viewpoint offers a Champagne brunch menu available on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The menu features items such as a Crab Cake Benny, Red Velvet Waffles and Banana Fosters French Toast. Reservations are recommended.

Also at Sycuan: San Diego Padres fans can check into the new Padres Suite in the casino’s hotel (which opened in 2019). The entrance to the suite features a wall designed with 40 baseball bats. Décor elements also include a framed and autographed Manny Machado jersey, a Tony Gwynn Louisville Slugger, baseball-inspired bed lamps, a leather catchall tray made of Rawlings gloves and baseball bathroom mats. One of the room’s two 50-inch TVs is mounted on a turf wall outfitted with a home plate.

Harrah’s ‘beautiful’ Italian eatery

This summer, Harrah’s Resort Southern California added the original Italian restaurant Che Bello to its array of dining options. Translating to “how beautiful,” Che Bello offers traditional Italian favorites with creative twists. The menu includes fresh pizzas (whole and by the slice), house-made lasagna, a variety of pastas and salads. Other offerings include classic Italian piadina flatbread sandwiches, such as the carved beef pastor. Che Bello is open Friday through Sunday.

Harrah’s also recently rolled out a new Impressive Progressive program with an estimated jackpot of up to $1 million. All 50 of the casino’s floor tables are tied into this jackpot — meaning any $5 bet could hit the big money. The casino is the first in the country to offer this sort of wide-ranging shot at life-altering winnings.

While you’re at Harrah’s trying to hit the Impressive Progressive, check out the latest art installation that honors the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians. Designed by renowned Native American artist Roxanne Swentzell, the lobby sculpture depicts a woman and child taking part in the traditional Luiseño practice of grinding acorn to create a meal known as wiiwish.

Donoho is a freelance writer.