San Manuel donates $9M to UNLV Hospitality, Law Schools

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians are already corporate sponsors of Allegiant Stadium and the Vegas Golden Knights. But on Friday, the tribe took its support of Las Vegas institutions a step further with a $9 million gift to support hospitality education and gaming law at UNLV.

“This marks the beginning of a historic joint initiative between UNLV and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians,” UNLV president Marta Meana told attendees who gathered at the college’s Hospitality Hall for the announcement. 

Officially titled the Initiative for Native American Gaming Operations, Governance and Economic Development, Meana said: “This philanthropic gift will position UNLV as the nation’s leading source for education and innovation related to tribal gaming.

 “This gift, the largest the San Manuel tribe has ever given to an out of market educational or health care institution will establish educational opportunities for citizens and employees of (the tribe) and other tribal nations.”

Representatives of the tribe were at UNLV Friday for a ceremony commemorating the donation.

“We want to be here to help our sister tribes … and educate other who want to be involved with what we do with Indian law, policy and education,” said Lynn Valbuena, San Manuel Tribal chairwoman. “It’s all about education.”

Valbuena admitted the tribe also made this donation because “Las Vegas is the center of the gaming world.”

“This is our business,” she said. “This is what we do.”

A $6 million portion of the gift will establish the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Endowed chair in tribal gaming at the UNLV College of Hospitality. It will also enhance the college’s curriculum by incorporating tribal gaming into existing gaming courses, creating new track courses in tribal gaming, and developing a set of online certificate courses for community members and Native Americans nationwide.

The program, which will emphasize partnerships with other schools and tribes nationwide, will also host an annual, week-long executive education seminar for tribal gaming executives and other industry professionals.

UNLV expects to have faculty in place this fall, with the full tribal gaming program rollout anticipated by fall 2023. 

At the William S. Boyd School of Law, $3 million of the gift will support a professor-in-residence, a visiting professor, and a program administrator who will create opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue and research on governance, regulation, and economic development issue.  

“In the tribe’s history, tribal government gaming is the only tool that has worked to meet our economic development objectives,” Valbuena said. “Yet, the full potential of tribal gaming cannot be achieved id we do not place an emphasis on developing native people to manage our economic developments, including gaming.”

Valbuena said the tribe is making this investment to “educate and prepare our children, grandchildren and future generations to help chart our patch to a sustainable future.”

The partnership with UNLV isn’t the tribe’s first in Las Vegas. In October, the tribe announced a partnership with the Las Vegas Raiders for the $2 billion, 65-,000-seat stadium they’ll call home later this year. 

The tribe operates the San Manuel Casino in Highland, Calif., in San Bernardino County some 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. A new $550 million, 17-story, 450-room hotel is expected to be completed next summer, when a 3,000-seat entertainment venue also is expected to open. The casino hosts 4,700 slot machines. 

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