You Bet Your Bottom Dollar

For people who constantly get that itch for games of chance, Las Vegas has always been the ultimate land of opportunity. There isn’t anywhere else in the world where somebody can find so many different places to gamble or so many different ways to gamble. In recent years, Las Vegas has become even more alluring after the building of such world-class resorts as Bellagio and the Venetian.

James P. Pascual

Unfortunately for UCSD students, Las Vegas is rarely a reasonable option for quenching their gambling fantasies. The five-hour drive puts a crimp into everybody’s style, especially with gas prices as high as they are right now.

Also, more then half of UCSD’s population is under 21. For this group, Las Vegas seems more like a dollar peep show downtown; they let you look but not touch.

Well my friends, there is a way to stay local and still find a way to lose your money in a blaze of glory: the Native American reservation casinos.

The Law

Prior to 1988, Native American tribes were prohibited from having gaming establishments on their reservations. This all changed that year, however, when federal law granted Native Americans this right.

The federal rights provided, however, were very limited. The law would not allow the casinos to provide money for card games. Players had to offer an ante to the house and could only bet against each other, meaning the dealers could not play hands. The law also did not allow lotteries. Low limits on slot machines were also enforced.

For these reasons, the reservations were forced to innovate some games that were strikingly similar to the Las Vegas classics, but they could not offer the actual games.

This problem looked like it was to be settled in 1998 after the overwhelming passing of Proposition 5, which aimed to clear up the wording in the original federal law and also to extend the gambling opportunities Native Americans were allowed to offer in their casinos. This, however, was not what happened.

Proposition 5 was held up in courts by lawsuits filed on behalf of Las Vegas casino owners. In 1999, after almost a year of arguments, the courts overturned Proposition 5 based on technicalities in the law.

Taxpayers were given another opportunity to fix the squabbling between the government and Native Americans in March 2000. Appearing on this ballot was Proposition 1A, which claimed to fix the confusing wording in the state law.

When the smoke cleared on March 8, the tally wasn’t even a close one. A whopping 64.6 percent of voters were for 1A.

The effect of Proposition 1A was not clear at the time it was passed, but in retrospect, it is easy to see the differences in the Native American casinos.

First of all, the limit on slot machines has been raised to $2,000. For this reason, many of the local casinos are adding new buildings and revamping their old ones.

Proposition 1A also allows Native Americans to play house-banked games like blackjack and run lottery-type games. All in all, Proposition 1A made the reservation casinos much more like those of Las Vegas.

The Games

Although the reservations vary as to which games they offer, the variation is quite small. Most of the favorites from Las Vegas are offered at all the casinos, and some offer the more obscure games.

The reservation casinos all offer a wide variety of slot machines for your playing enjoyment. These machines, thanks to Proposition 1A, are now the same types of machines found in Las Vegas. If you like slot machines, any of the casinos in the area should be to your liking.

All of the local casinos also offer the old favorite of the gerontology crowd: bingo. Everybody played this game when they were little kids and it doesn’t really need much explaining. They call a number and if you have it on your card, you mark it. The first person to get a straight line of called numbers wins. There are a few variations on this, but that is the basic game. So if you are over 70, you should be very happy with your bingo options around San Diego.

Blackjack is also offered at all of the San Diego area casinos. Blackjack is a game in which the players and the dealer each get two cards. The players play solely against the dealer and do not lose simply because another player has a higher total than they do. Face cards are worth 10, an ace is worth either one or 11, and all other cards are worth their face value. The object is to get higher than the dealer without going over 21. The wide allure of blackjack can probably be attributed to the fact that any novice can sit down and win, while there are advanced strategies that make the game interesting for even the most seasoned player.

All of the San Diego area casinos offer a poker room where players can match their wits against each other in classic card games such as seven-card stud and Texas hold `em. Some, but not all, also have variations of poker that you can play against the house. These games include Caribbean stud poker, three card poker, let it ride and pai gow poker.

The rules of these games are too lengthy to explain in text, but if you enjoy classic poker games, picking up the rules to these games shouldn’t take you very long.

The Casinos


Pechanga is a Native American casino in Temecula. To get there, you take Interstate 15 north for about 40 miles, exit on highway 79, turn right and go one mile to Pala Road, where you again turn right. Stay on Pala Road for about 2 miles and Pechanga is on the right.

Pechanga offers blackjack, slots, bingo, Caribbean stud (which they call Pechanga stud, but the rules are the same) and classic poker.


Barona is settled right here in the San Diego area, but getting to it can be a challenge if you don’t know exactly where you are going. Take Interstate 8 east to Highway 67 north. Exit on Willows Road, then take a left on Wildcat Canyon Road. If you follow that six miles through a winding mountain road, Barona will be on your left.

Barona offers all the games that Pechanga does, but also offers three card poker, pai gow poker and casino war (yes, it is basically the same game you played with your dad when you were five, only this time it’s for money).


Viejas is possibly the easiest of all the area casinos to get to. You take I-8 to Alpine and exit on Willows Road. Turn left and follow the street a mile-and-a-half. The casino is on your left side. The Viejas outlet stores are on the right.

Viejas has a similar set of games to Barona’s, but does not offer casino war. It does, however, offer let it ride and baccarat, two games that no other casino in the area offers.


Sycuan is geogaphically the closest casino to UCSD, but the drive takes about as long as the drive to Viejas. To get to Sycuan, go down I-8 and exit at El Cajon Boulevard. Follow this until you hit Washington, then turn right. Follow this for three miles until it becomes Dehesa. Stay on it for another five miles and it will take you right to the casino.

Sycuan offers a somewhat more limited selection of games as compared to the other casinos. In addition to the standard poker, slots and blackjack (which they call Sycuan 21), Sycuan offers pai gow poker and Sycuan stud (which, again, is simply a dressed up name for Caribbean stud).

A Good Alternative

So for those of you who don’t have the time to go to Las Vegas or aren’t 21 yet, check out the Native American reservation casinos.

They don’t have the same glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas resorts, but they are a good substitute if you are in the mood to lose a little money at the tables or sitting behind a one-armed bandit.

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