Milanovich joined the Army at 17, serving 2 1/2 years in Germany and as a tracker on long-range reconnaissance patrols. After his discharge, he returned to Los Angeles, where, among other things, he sold vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias door to door. He first joined the tribal council in 1978, when he was 35.
In 1992, as tribal chairman, Milanovich persuaded the tribal council to buy the decrepit Spa Hotel in downtown Palm Springs, which a developer had built on leased reservation land three decades before. The wisdom of that purchase wasn't fully realized until a few years later, when a growing number of tribes in California were opening casinos without state or federal permission, and making a bundle.