Station set for California opens a Hooters cafe

May 20, 2003 11:24 PM

Station Casinos now has more than five dozen scantily-clad "Hooters girls" traipsing about its Sunset Station casino, and is getting ready to start profiting from the controversial $215 million Thunder Road casino outside Sacramento in about three weeks.

Station debuted the Hooters restaurant franchise last week at the Henderson casino in order to add what company officials described as a "casual, relaxed atmosphere" that now includes 65 Hooters waitresses, dressed in tight red hot pants and chest-hugging, low-cut tops.

"This is the world we’re entering and one that we have great hopes will be successful as our past ventures," said Jim Upchurch, vice president of LTP Management, Inc., a company that operates a Hooters on West Sahara and other themed eateries, including Dan Marino’s Fine Food and Spirits in Florida.

The Thunder Valley casino, owned by the United Auburn Indian Community tribe and managed by Station, will open its doors on the tribe’s land near Sacramento on June 9.

The United Auburn tribe obtained a $142.5 million loan for the planned $215 million project, with Station agreeing to provide additional credit support to ensure the project is completed. The tribe it now looking for additional financing, but if they can’t get another loan Station has agreed to put up the remainder to cover costs.

Station executives have boasted that the Thunder Valley project will be completed less than eight months after Station began building it last October. The casino is set to operate about 1,900 slots, 94 table games, a 500-seat buffet, a high-limit Asian gaming pit, several restaurants and bars and 3,000 parking spaces on a 49-acre site.

Under its federally approved Indian gaming agreement with the United Auburn tribe, Station will manage the casino operation for up to seven years, during which the Las Vegas company will charge a fee equal to 24 percent of the casino’s annual income.

But some casino operators and newspapers in Northern Nevada have criticized Station for its leading role in a casino that could siphon future gaming revenue away from casinos in the Reno and Tahoe areas that depend on visitors from Northern California.

Thunder Valley is located on the Interstate 80 freeway between the San Francisco Bay Area, the top drive-in market for the Reno/Tahoe gaming halls, and western Nevada.

At a meeting of the state Gaming Control Board earlier this month, Board Member Scott Scherer told a Station executive that a newspaper columnist in Northern Nevada complained that the Auburn project would hurt the region’s casinos, and that Station ought to consider choosing between staying in business in Nevada and leaving the state in favor of California.

Board Member Bobby Siller, while saying that the tribal casino represented a good business opportunity for Station, cautioned that the Auburns would not have the same kinds of regulatory controls as casinos in Nevada, and that problems incurred by the tribe could lead to problems for Station in Nevada.

The National Indian Gaming Commission has only two enforcement agents assigned to investigate Indian casinos in all of California, which is a cause for concern that the tribe would follow the rules, Siller added.

Station executives have said that Nevada would benefit in the long run by having its companies increase their revenues by taking part in out-of-state Indian gaming ventures.