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September 20, 1992|Kathleen Moloney

Twenty-four-hour gambling is not a traditional tribal activity for the Morongo Indians, but Chief Adelaide Presley believes it's a pastime that can help send her people's children to Stanford, if it's done in a big, big way. So, in May, her tribe remodeled its thriving bingo hall to create Casino Morongo--where 800 to 900 people a night play games like Hold 'em, Omaha High-Low Split and Seven-Card Stud.

The casino, about 10 miles west of Palm Springs, looks more like Vons than Caesars, but that's only temporary. In mid-November, the tribe, with the backing of Santa Monica-based E. C. Investments, a gaming management firm, will break ground for a new facility. Located next to the current casino, the $5-million Southwestern-style, 50,000-square-foot gaming palace, which opens in January, will be as posh as Vegas, with an 80-table card room and an 800-seat off-track horse wagering theater, thick carpet and marble floors.

The only thing missing will be the well-endowed dancing girls. "We won't have a show lounge. The tribal council definitely prefers a more conservative approach," says Gary Gross, former manager of the casino, who in July moved on to another E. C. project.

Knowing that gambling deals have shortchanged many tribes, the Morongos made certain every i was dotted. "E. C. Investments is bound by contract to train the tribe to be self-sufficient and operate this place. When they're able to do that, we'll move on," Gross says.

The tribe is entitled by law to a minimum 60% of the profits. "It's definitely a good investment," says tribal council member Charles Martin. "Right now, things are going very smoothly, and we are making a profit. I think we're getting a very fair and equitable deal."

The new casino will employ 700 people, with a preference in hiring extended to Morongo tribe members and other American Indians. Nine Indians hold supervisory posts and a management training program is in the works. "I've seen large numbers of California Indians get off welfare, and get their children into college (with casino money)," says Jerry Levine, an attorney specializing in Indian rights.

Even though poker winnings have gone as high as $38,000, the tribe doesn't plan to hire Wayne Newton or Charo any time soon. "This isn't Las Vegas, and we don't want it to be," Levine says.

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