Casino Comment

Trump recants casino comment

Mogul not aware of tribes’ friendship

Casino developer Donald Trump backed off his earlier claim that the gaming market around Trump 29 Casino in Coachella was already saturated.

Trump said he changed his mind because he didn’t know the tribal owners of Trump 29 Casino were “friendly” with a tribe that wants to build another casino nearby.

“I think it could work very nicely. I think it could be a very positive thing for the area,” said Trump of the proposed second casino.

The Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians are eyeing land for a new casino about five miles east of Dillon Road on Interstate 10.

Trump 29, which is managed by Trump’s resort and casino company but owned by the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, is on Dillon at I-10.

On March 17, The Desert Sun reported that Trump didn’t think the area could support another casino.

He said: “Trump 29 Casino has been a tremendous success for that area. But I don’t think another casino is justified.”

But Trump said Monday that was before he knew of the tribes’ close relationship.

“I didn’t realize that. Nobody explained that to me,” he told The Desert Sun by phone. “If you’re going to go at loggerheads and head-to-head, that’s not a good thing.

“When it was explained that they’re extremely close, extremely good friends, that the two tribes are extremely close together, I think that could work out very nicely. I think it would be just fine. It would be a very big success.”

The Desert Sun published Sunday a letter to the editor from Dean Mike, chairman of the Twenty-Nine Palms tribe. It read, in part: “Please be advised that the opinions expressed by Donald Trump … do not represent the views of the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians.

“Our tribe has always supported the plans of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians in their efforts to develop a gaming facility in the Coachella Valley, and we continue to do so.”

Trump denied Monday that he was pressured to change his opinion.

“I spoke with Dean Mike … I didn’t know the tribes are extremely close. When that was explained to me, I said, ‘Well, that’s a whole different parameter, that’s a whole different set of circumstances,’ ” he said.

Mike was unavailable for comment Monday. Tribal attorney Gary Kovall said Trump voluntarily changed his view after learning the facts.

“I don’t think Mr. Trump understood (the tribes) were close,” Kovall said. “I’m not sure anybody could pressure Mr. Trump. We didn’t pressure him.”

Earlier this month, Torres Martinez leaders met with the Mohegans, a tribal gaming powerhouse that owns the 240-acre Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

“Me and Chairman Mike both spoke to (Trump) personally. He said he didn’t know about the tribes’ relationship,” said Raymond Torres, chairman of the Torres Martinez tribe. “He told us he was misinformed … He didn’t have any problem retracting his statement.”

Kovall said the Twenty-Nine Palms tribe “has no problem” with Torres Martinez tribe building a gaming facility so close to Trump 29.

“There are actually relatives of Twenty-Nine Palm families that are members of Torres Martinez,” Kovall said. “(Their relationship) goes way back.”

Trump has been at odds with Indian tribes in the past. In the early 1990s, he made headlines for saying members of an American Indian tribe in Connecticut didn’t “look like Indians” to him. And four years ago, he paid for a series of ads opposing a proposed Indian casino in the Catskills of New York.

Trump owns the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, and Trump Marina Hotel Casino, all in Atlantic City, and Trump Casino Hotel on Lake Michigan.

Brian Joseph covers Palm Springs for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at Brian.Joseph@thedesertsun.com or 778-4757.