Driving down a Jamul backroad, I spot a personal aircraft haphazardly parked in a field of tall grass, a man in chaps riding a horse down the road, and a makeshift target-practice range. The lack of a homeowners’ association is evident in many sections of town. It’s a hodge-podge of manufactured homes, palatial mansions, and do-it-yourself home-improvement projects and add-ons. It’s a town made up, mostly, of the solidly middle class with a handful of eccentrically wealthy. It’s the kind of town you move to when you want to escape the hustle and bustle. Perhaps that’s why when members of the Jamul Indian Village, in the 1990s, announced their plans to build a casino in town, locals lost their minds.
Even now, with the casino reaching its one-year anniversary, anti-casino signs are prominently displayed in Jamul. One reads, in blood-red letters, “97.5% say no casino!” Another quixotically demands, “No casino in Jamul! Save our community!”
Tribal members of the Jamul Indian Village are one of 13 local bands belonging to the Kumeyaay nation. Ancestors of the now–61-person Jamul Indian band settled on a parcel of land adjacent to a graveyard maintained by a Roman Catholic church early last century.
In 1978 the Daly family, who owned 4.5 acres of land the Jamul Village Indians settled on, entrusted it — along with 1.8 acres donated by the Catholic Church — to the United States government to be used as the Jamul Indian Village reservation. Because of the transfer of ownership of this land, the Indians were able to apply for federal recognition to become a designated tribe.
With that recognition they were entitled to federal funding. The funding brought electricity and running water to the homes on the reservation. Prior to 1981, the Jamul band’s housing, most of which was dirt-floored and made with scrap plywood and metal, had neither electricity nor running water. With this federal recognition, to the dismay of many Jamul residents, came the prospect of future gaming and an eventual casino for the Jamul Indian Village.
“There is the casino”
...Marcia Spurgeon says in disgust while peering up at the massive building from out the window of her SUV. “This is not like anything they told us they were going to build when we went to their meetings. This building is bigger than any Walmart in the United States.”
It’s early Friday afternoon and Spurgeon has offered to take me on a tour of Jamul. She is a real estate agent in town and an active member of the Jamul Action Committee, a group of locals that advocates for the community, all of whom are vehemently against the casino. This group is responsible for the anti-casino signs hung around Jamul.
After driving past some of the nicer homes in Jamul and down backroads, Spurgeon has saved the casino for last. She wants it to sink in how out of place the glitzy casino looks among Jamul’s dusty hiking trails, grassy fields, and mountainous backdrops. The large red lettering on the face of the casino stands out boldly against the rugged and serene open space that surrounds the casino. Its six-level parking garage and two-story gaming complex next to Highway 94 look oversized and out of place from all angles.
Spurgeon and other members of the Jamul Action Committee, along with the Jamul Planning committee, are the Hollywood Casino’s most vocal dissenters. The groups have filed over 40 lawsuits in protest of the casino. Even with the structure already built and up and running, they are still heavily protesting its existence.
“Have you been inside the casino?” I ask Spurgeon who is still grimacing at the structure.
She shakes her head, adding firmly, “I have never been in the casino. I have no desire to put my foot in it. I am not a gambler, and they use facial recognition.” Spurgeon lets out a gleeful chuckle before adding, “You should read their Yelp reviews. Overall they are pretty negative.”
Over on Yelp, the Hollywood Casino has garnered 2.5 stars out of 5. Some are from disgruntled visitors while many others are from annoyed community members who, like Spurgeon, view the casino as a threat to keeping Jamul rural.
Spurgeon outlines three solid reasons she is against the casino: road safety, its environmental impact, and the need to keep Jamul rural.
“When I am showing houses, people will say, ‘I am tired of having close neighbors. I just want a little space.’ That seems to be the theme. People enjoy the quiet and peacefulness Jamul offers.”
On our drive around town I am taken aback by the beauty of Jamul. It’s a hazy day, but from the a viewpoint along Lyons Valley Road, San Diego sprawls out before me. The Otay River sparkles, and parts of Coronado are visible. For Spurgeon, the casino is an assault on the beauty of the community she has called home for over 40 years.
“You know,” she says as we look out over Jamul Valley, “half of [the Jamul Village Indians] have never even set foot out here. They don’t even live in Jamul.”
Spurgeon is correct. Very few Jamul Village Indians live in Jamul. The reason for that is their entire reservation, all six acres, are used to house the Hollywood Casino, parking structure, community center, tribal meeting building, and the cemetery where their elders are buried. Other San Diego County bands with casinos boast far larger acreage. Viejas sits on 1572 acres, Pala has a whopping 12,333 acres, and Barona’s acreage is 5664. The Jamul Indian Village doesn’t have enough acreage to create their own community around their casino. The modest homes that once sat on their reservation were bulldozed in order to accommodate their supersized casino. The Hollywood Casino has been dropped in a sleepy community whose residents are not tribe members and therefore don’t see the benefit to its existence the way those surrounding other tribal casinos do. And that is where most of the drama stems from.