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Southern California Casinos Assist in Wildfire Relief

Viejas Casino and Harrah's Rincon Among Those to Provide Support

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The fires sweeping through Southern California have forced evacuations for more than 600,000 people and destroyed or damaged more than 2,000 homes. Like many businesses in the area, casinos have also been affected, forcing the temporary closure of many. Although gambling may be the last thought on the minds of those affected by the fires, a few casinos have lent a much needed helping hand.

Ordered by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the Viejas casino closed its doors last week. It reopened Saturday at 3 p.m., as did the poker room's daily tournaments, but during the wildfires, the Viejas tribal government assisted in support and relief in a number of ways. It opened the casino's Harvest Buffet to firefighters around the clock, designated the tribe's recreation center a place for firefighters to stage and rest, donated clothing to the evacuation center at Pechanga Resort, and donated approximately 6,000 meals to evacuation centers with the help of the San Diego Red Cross.

"The Viejas tribal government assisted both the general public and the local tribes," said Viejas spokesman Robert Scheid. "The Viejas Indians are part of the Kumeyaay people who have a very hospitable culture. It is part of their tradition, in keeping with the spirit of the Kumeyaay; it was natural for us to pitch in."

Scheid also refers to past wildfires in the area. In 2001, the Viejas fire lasted six days and created an estimated $2 million worth of property damage. Then, in October of 2003, the Cedar fire ripped through more than 280,000 acres of Southern-California land, consuming 2,820 buildings along the way, making it the largest recorded fire in California history at the time.

"We had been through fires before and were ready to help in any way possible," Scheid said. "We had experience. There were many people who helped us during those times, and we needed it. As we say, it is the Kumeyaay way. We are still continuing our assistance."

Another casino that was affected by both the 2003 and 2007 wildfires is the Harrah's Rincon casino. In 2003, the casino closed for a few days and hosted about 50 families who needed shelter. This was also the case last week. When fire spread to the Rincon Indian reservation, the Harrah's Rincon casino was threatened. The casino closed last Tuesday but provided refuge to about 350 people that night. Harrah's Rincon was filled to capacity over the weekend and continues to house families who have lost their homes. There is a list of names that family and friends can check for missing loved ones. The casino reopened early yesterday morning.

The current wildfires are now about 90 percent contained, which is 30 percentage points higher than Saturday. Because of the favorable weather conditions, firefighters are making significant progress. Nearly all San Diego County residents who were forced from their homes were allowed to return Monday.