What’s new and noteworthy at San Diego casinos: a poker room, bigger buffet and more


The San Diego-area’s 10 casinos are in constant motion — and not just because they’re open 24/7.

In the high-stakes competition for customers, new amenities are being added seemingly every week. Here’s a roundup of how several casinos are upping their game.

Jamul Casino opens a new poker room

A star-studded squad from the professional poker world helped Jamul Casino mark the Feb. 15 grand opening of a new, 10-table poker room.

Actress and celebrity poker player Tiffany Michelle — who won $334,534 at the 2008 World Series of Poker — and ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad were on hand for the inaugural Golden Cap poker tournament, which had a prize pool of $50,000.

Jamul’s poker room is next to the casino’s high-limit room, near the entrance to Loft 94 Beer Garden. It features table-side dining, full bar service as well as weekly poker tournaments and special events.

“We are constantly listening to our guests and are thrilled to accommodate the growing market for a high-stakes poker room,” said Erica Pinto, chairwoman of the Jamul Indian Village.

Valley View Casino & Hotel expands its buffet

Move over, Maine lobster — you’ve got some new company.

The expansion and remodeling of Valley View’s popular endless lobster buffet was completed recently, with the addition of 100 seats and 25 more dishes.

With 600 seats, the buffet now features new tables and chairs, carpeting and its own dedicated restroom.

Among the new dishes are short rib pasta, asparagus ravioli, filet mignon Oscar-style, Cajun catfish, vegetable gumbo, Asian basil chicken and a hummus bar with lavash and crudités. The options join the endless lobster; Alaskan king crab legs; and seafood, Italian, Mexican, Asian and meat carving stations. There is an extensive housemade bread selection and a 100-foot dessert bar that includes everything from chocolate-dipped Oreos to sugar-free pecan pie and eight kinds of cheesecake.

Meanwhile, work is winding down on Valley View’s $50 million expansion and renovation project, as it enters its final stages. More than 43,000 square feet has been added to the casino, including 500 new slot machines and 11 table games, a new players club and promotions/tournament area, as well as more restrooms.

On May 24, Valley View will unveil two new eateries, a casual breakfast and lunch spot called The Café and Patties & Pints, a craft beer restaurant and bar. The latter will feature local brews on tap, a full bar and a menu of unique burgers, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, entrees, desserts and shakes.

The construction project includes a top-to-bottom renovation to the existing casino and restaurants — which is already completed — and an upgrade of the sizable non-smoking area, which is expected to be done by July 4.

Simulated sports, real fun at Harrah’s Resort Southern California

Not all the action happens at the slots and tables, with Harrah’s Resort SoCal opening the first Topgolf Swing Suite at an area casino.

Topgolf’s interactive simulator technology — the same kind used by PGA pros Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day — allows players to hit the links as well as play baseball, football, hockey and even Zombie Dodgeball, in the privacy of a party suite.

The Topgolf Swing Suite can accommodate up to eight people and can be rented for birthdays, bachelor parties, company retreats and other occasions.

The cost ranges from $30 to $50 per hour; food and bottle service are available on Friday and Saturday. Guests must be 21 and over.

For more information and booking, go to or call (760) 751-3100.

Pechanga Resort & Casino elevates its beverage program

On the heels of hiring a resort mixologist, Pechanga recently brought on a property sommelier and also opened the new 30-seat Corner Bar.

The bar, which is adjacent to the high-limit gaming area and across from the Pechanga Theater, features a four-cocktail specialty drink menu created by mixologist Nick Hirsch that includes the Warden, with Earl Grey and pear-infused bourbon, honey syrup and lemon juice.

New sommelier Mark Amodeo said his vision is to expand the wine options across the resort’s 10-plus restaurants, tailoring the selections to each, such as “zesty fun, racy, whites to match the Asian food” at Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar, for example, or Italian reds to the list at Paisano’s.

Amodeo will bolster the master wine list at Great Oak Steakhouse, he said.

“You have to pay homage to the classics, but I would like to add a few Bordeaux, a few red Burgundies, the Ornellaia’s and such.” He’ll be “filling in a few gaps” by offering syrah, pinot noir from Oregon and some more cabernets.

A native of Wales, Amodeo is intrigued by the nearby wine country in Temecula, and guests can expect more local wines at the resort.

Impressed by the caliber of the chefs there, he plans to collaborate with them to craft wine dinners at the various restaurants.

“For me,” Amodeo said, “it’s all about sharing what you love.”

The ratings are in

Two of the most respected hospitality rating guides in the U.S. — AAA and Forbes — bestowed kudos on several San Diego-area casino resorts in their most recent guides.

Inspectors from AAA and Forbes visit properties anonymously, make unannounced stays and are uncompromising in their search for quality, cleanliness, superior amenities and elevated service. For each, a rating of five is the highest.

The ratings carry prestige, in part, because of their exclusivity. For example, according to the AAA website, “just 6.3 percent of the more than 27,000 AAA Inspected & Approved hotels make the Four Diamond list.”

Local casino hotels garnering AAA Four Diamond ratings were Barona Resort & Casino, Pala Casino Spa & Resort, Pechanga Resort & Casino, Viejas Casino & Resort and its new sister property, Willows Hotel & Spa.

Four Diamond awards also went to Pechanga’s Great Oak Steakhouse and Viejas’ The Grove Steakhouse.

The Forbes Travel Guide gave its only San Diego casino hotel Four