Gaming Resorts in Indian Country Earned Accolades in 2016, part 2

Courtesy Graton Resort Casino / Graton Resort & Casino officially became Sonoma County's first gaming destination with a hotel in 2016.

For high praise and grand expansions, these 5 tribal-owned destinations made headlines this year

From California to Wyoming to New York, these resort casinos across Indian country set the bar high for luxury and entertainment. These five destinations received top honors in 2016, or debuted a first-of-its-kind offering, such as a brewery and tasting room within a Native resort. Start planning those trips for 2017.

Also check out Part 1 of our 2016 award-winning, tribal-owned casino list: These 5 Indian resorts received high-praise or debuted unique, luxury additions this year.

Chumash Casino Resort

Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians

Santa Ynez, California

Located in the beautiful wine country of Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara county, Chumash Casino Resort received a AAA rating for the 11th consecutive year in 2016. Two other properties owned and operated by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians also received the AAA Four Diamond rating: Willows restaurant and Hotel Corque, the 10th year in a row and the fourth, respectively.

Only 5.4 percent of the more than 29,000 hotels approved by AAA make the Four Diamond list, and only 2.3 percent of the nearly 30,000 restaurants approved by AAA receive the honor.

Chumash Casino Resort has remained open during its ongoing expansion to create a more spacious and inviting gaming floor. The tribe is also adding restaurants and other amenities to enhance the guest experience.

The Willows specializes in prime steaks and fresh seafood, paired with local and imported wines. The restaurant sources foods from local farms, ranches and gardens.

For a peaceful retreat a short drive away from Chumash Casino, Hotel Corque offers comfort and luxury amid the surrounding wine country.

Courtesy Willows / The beet salad at Willows, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ AAA Four Diamond-rated restaurant

Harrah’s Resort Sothern California (SoCal)

Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians

Valley Center, California

A Southern California tribe recently debuted the first brewery and tasting room at a casino in the region. SR76 Beerworks opened in November at Harrah’s Resort near Valley Center, just an hour’s drive north of San Diego. The brewery and tasting room is wholly owned by the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians. Fifteen stainless steel tanks will produce 3,000 kegs a year at SR76. “3,000 kegs is not small; it is reasonably large,’’ said Jim Murguia, chairman of the Rincon Economic Development Corporation, reported valleycenterhappenings.com.

The approachable beers — well-built and balanced — appeal to casual beer lovers and craft beer enthusiasts alike. The first round of beers — a kolsch, a saison, wheat beer, and pale ale — showcase the lighter side of brews and additionally highlight the bright citrus grown in the picturesque Valley Center hillsides. The brewery is named after State Road 76, which winds through the tribe’s historical migration path of coastal and inland camps along the San Luis Rey River.

Brewmaster Brian Scott told valleycenterhappenings.com that the resort in Rincon is “absolutely the best place to launch a brewery,’’ thanks to space, population and diversity. The city sees an average of 2.5 million visitors annually.

“Because of our relationship with the resort, I’m able to produce a lot of world class beers,” he told sandiegoreader.com, “But still able to have this opportunity to talk to the people who are enjoying them… Most breweries this size don’t always get to have that luxury.”

Graton Resort & Casino

Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria

Rohnert Park, California

On November 15, the Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, California, cut the ribbon on its more than $175 million expansion and finally made the “resort” part of its name official.

Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the 1,300-member Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, believes they have significantly upped the ante on gaming destinations in Sonoma County with the first casino in Wine Country offering an onsite hotel—six stories high with 200 rooms. “It’s the frosting on the cake of our overall vision,” he said.

This delicious finish to the 342,000-square-foot expansion also includes an opulent, but warm, lobby featuring two bars and lounges, a 10,000-square-foot spa and salon, a fitness center, an Asian restaurant, the area’s largest convention center and a 30,000-square-foot outdoor oasis and pool. But not just any pool. This 7,000-square-foot lushly landscaped centerpiece includes private cabanas, a pool bar and floating lounge chairs where you can eat and drink while in the drink.

However, it’s the convention center that Sarris emphasized during an interview with Indian Country Media Network.

“The largest meeting venue in the North Bay had accommodated only 500 people,” said the tribal chairman, who hopes to attract big corporate events and big-name stars for shows. “Our new ballroom and convention center seats up to 1,700 people for dinner and 2,000 people for a show. There’s nothing like it around. We inaugurated the space with Patti LaBelle and are hosting dances there for the Latino community every two weeks.”

Sarris additionally takes the greatest pride in the compassionate work environment that he has created for nearly 2,000 employees—a fulfillment of the tribe’s mission of environmental restoration and social justice. Not only does the casino and resort pay more than minimum wage for entry-level jobs, but also, no matter what the job classification, every “team member” who works 20 hours a week or more receives full medical, dental and vision benefits, with no payroll deductions.

Shoshone Rose Casino

Eastern Shoshone Tribe

Lander, Wyoming

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe recently debuted $30 million worth of upgrades to Shoshone Rose Casino on the Wind River Reservation in Lander, Wyoming. The expansion, aimed at creating an upscale feel among destinations, includes a 61-room hotel with an indoor heated pool and hot tub. Just outside the pool area, a fire pit and seating venue overlook the majestic Wind River Mountain Range.

“We were going for an elegant facility,” Soshone Business Council chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr. told The Ranger.

The tribe held a soft opening of the renovated casino and hotel on September 30 with blessings and drum songs. The official grand opening took place in October to showcase the indoor pool and surrounding landscaping.

The tribe opened Shoshone Rose, its first gaming facility, on the Wind River Reservation in October 2007.

Turning Stone Resort Casino

Oneida Indian Nation

Verona, New York

Turning Stone Resort Casino, nestled in Central New York, is on the list of destinations worth driving, or flying, to. The 3,400-acre recreation, dining and entertainment oasis in Verona, New York, offers incredible golf courses, romantic restaurants, and divine spa treatments. The gaming floor is hard to beat, too.

In 2016, the resort racked up the awards. Skʌ:nʌ́ Spa was rated among the best spas in the world by Spas of America, and the tribe celebrated the spa’s 10 years of operating with incredible new, nourishing spa treatments that embrace cultural traditions. Also in 2016, Golf Digest named Turning Stone one of the Best Golf Resorts in America, a highly competitive ranking selected by the editors of the magazine.

Ska:ná:, the Oneida word for peace, takes soothing treatments and modern amenities and combines them with influences from American Indian culture, creating a truly luxurious and unique spa experience. Tucked away in the award-winning Lodge at Turning Stone, Ska:ná: offers a full menu of treatments ranging from restorative to invigorating. The world-class facilities include steam rooms, mineral pools, saunas, and an intimate café. The spa aims to bring lifestyle, nutrition and fitness into perfect harmony.

In May, the spa added a Himalayan Salt Stone Massage treatment to its extensive treatment menu. Himalayan salts have been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce muscle cramps by improving hydration, help to balance blood sugar in the body and induce deep relaxation.

Among its other esteemed honors, industry leader Golf Digest named Turning Stone one of the Best Golf Resorts in America. Turning Stone was one of only two in New York State to be named to the list, which features the best resorts in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central America. Turning Stone was lauded for its variety of lodging options and for its world-renowned courses, designed by legendary course architects like Tom Fazio, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and Rick Smith. Stunning views along each of Turning Stone’s five courses, along with a variety of options of non-golf activities to choose from, made the resort an obvious choice for Golf Digest’s editors.

This story originally published December 29, 2016.

Courtesy Turning Stone / The tranquil mineral pool in the co-ed spa lounge at Skaná

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