Gov. Jerry Brown, who says he comes from “a long line of poker players,” was in Bell Gardens Tuesday to announce the start of a major expansion project at a casino best known for its large poker room and card tables, that is now being hailed for bringing hundreds of jobs to an area with a high unemployment rate.
The governor was joined by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and other local officials, for the launch of construction of a privately funded $45 million seven-story, 100-room hotel at The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens.
“This project and its hundreds of construction and permanent hospitality jobs is another sign of a rebound in the California economy, especially in our smaller cities and communities taking the brunt of the downturn,” Brown said. “Private sector investments such as the one being made by The Bicycle Casino are a strong vote of confidence in our economic future and I applaud them for taking this step.”
The hotel addition will expand the overall size of the facility to over 230,000 square-feet. The resort-like venue, similar to one in nearby Commerce, will be located on the casino’s property on Eastern Avenue near the 710 Freeway. Once complete, it will be one of only a few luxury hotel and casino resorts in south Los Angeles County.
At Tuesday’s launch, Brown heralded the casino’s hotel expansion as a positive step in the economic recovery of an area with a 16.3 percent unemployment rate.
“While things may be shutting down in Washington, they’re opening up in Bell Gardens,” he said.
Lara said the launch of the hotel project was a “momentous occasion” for the southeast city, adding that the casino is a “fixture in the community.”
“Over the past 20 years, the Bicycle Casino [has] played a pivotal role in Bell Gardens,” Lara said. “This exciting project will be the first of its kind…and a catalyst for future investment in neighboring communities.”
He said southeast communities in Los Angeles County were some of the hardest hit by the recession.
As a result, he said, “working families have taken the largest toll from the loss of jobs and the lack of growth opportunities for businesses in our communities.”
The $45 million private investment in the hotel “represents not only a new hotel, but also growth to our local economies which will give people an opportunity to provide for themselves and their children,’’ Lara said.
Nearly 43 percent of Bell Gardens’ general fund revenue comes from the casino. Historically, the amount has been closer to 50 percent; making the city very dependent on the casino for revenue it needs to pay for city services.
While the city welcomes the expansion and the increase in revenue it is sure to generate, it is banking on the hotel project creating a “ripple affect” that will bring more businesses to Bell Gardens, said Abel Avalos, the city’s director of community development.
“We want to use the opening of the hotel as a catalyst for luring future business,” Avalos told EGP. “Our hope is that the casino is successful because that means success for the city, but also for the other restaurants and business in the city.”
The casino is the “biggest economic engine” in Bell Gardens, Lara told EGP. The project will create approximately 300 construction-related jobs and 250 permanent full-time hotel-related jobs.
“You can’t think of Bell Gardens without thinking of The Bicycle Casino, they go hand in hand,” Lara said. “It’s important that the casino continues to thrive and continues to hire people in the local community.”
While there is no written hiring agreement between the city and the casino that it will hire people who live in Bell Gardens residents, the casino has “historically hired local residents” and has always made an effort to hire residents from the community, said Avalos.
Bell Gardens Mayor Daniel Crespo told EGP that despite there not being any type of agreement that would guarantee Bell Gardens residents will be hired once the project is completed, the city works with the casino to ensure residents are the first to know about any job opportunities.
Although The Bicycle Casino hotel was originally approved for development back in 1984, EGP reported earlier this year the city had to first amend its zoning code to create a defined use for a casino resort under its land use code in order to continue with the project. The city approved the project in April along with a standard parking ratio for the resort.
Information from City News Service was used in this report.