Vice Chairwoman Stephanie Spencer
Laurie E. Gonzalez
Frank Mazzetti III
The elected 2013-2015 Rincon tribal council consists of Chairman Bo Mazzetti, Vice Chairwoman Stephanie Spencer, and Council Members Steve Stallings, Laurie E. Gonzalez and Frank Mazzetti III. Tribal council members are elected by the membership, serving two-year-staggered terms. In addition to serving as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government, the tribal council is the board of directors for tribal enterprises, including Harrah’s Rincon, one of the premier resorts and casinos in Southern California.
The Rincon Community
The Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians occupies a 6,000-acre reservation in Valley Center, CA, and has a tribal population of 500 plus enrolled members. Established in 1875, the Rincon Band is a sovereign government recognized by the U.S. Constitution, the United States Congress, court precedent, and federal policy.
The Rincon Tribal Government
Democratically elected by a majority vote of tribal members, the Rincon council has the executive, legislative, and legal authority and responsibility to protect and promote the welfare of the tribal members and jurisdiction over the reservation land. The tribe is not a subdivision of the county or state, but is a federally recognized sovereign government. Rincon has powers equal to a city, county, or state.
The tribe has a “Trust Relationship” with the federal government, and, like state governments, is responsible for enforcing all applicable federal laws from environmental to taxation on the reservation.
The Rincon Band owns Harrah’s Resort Southern California (formerly known as Harrah’s Rincon Resort and Casino)and uses profits from this and other commercial enterprises to provide government services such as police and environmental enforcement, health, youth, seniors, recreation and culture programs, economic development, and a tribal court. The government also funds a highly respected and well-equipped tribal fire department, ambulance and paramedic unit, and contracts with the San Diego Sheriff, delivering increased patrols on the Rincon Reservation, and in the Valley Center community. At no cost to taxpayers, Rincon’s public safety operations respond to emergencies in the neighboring communities, with a majority of calls generated outside the reservation.
Rincon’s Economic Contributions
Rincon’s tribal enterprises are significant contributors to the North San Diego County economy through job creation, the purchase of local products and services, and tax generation. In the interest of sharing and being good neighbors, the tribal council and Rincon Community Contributions Committee award hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to regional non-profits and public agencies that support quality of life programs in the region.
The tribe also invests in boot strapping struggling tribal governments through quarterly contributions. Seventy-one tribal nations, unable to generate meaningful revenue by engaging in gaming receive annual contributions from the Rincon Band, which has made a total investment of $25.3 million over a 12 year-period.
1875 to 2002 Struggling to Survive
For years, the Rincon community struggled to find sources of commercial income to fund the tribal government. Surrounded by rocky hillsides with limited land for agriculture, the tribe also had to contend with the diversion of the San Luis Rey River water, the source of irrigation for the tribe, to neighboring urban areas. As a result, the tribe was fighting a losing battle to survive as a culture and community. The reservation experienced an economic depression lasting for more than 100 years, resulting in high rates of poverty and underemployment.
Without a reliable funding source, the tribal government could not meet the infrastructure needs of the community, from building and repairing wells for clean water and waste disposal systems, to roads and housing. Neither tribal individuals nor the tribal government could get loans to buy cattle, or start a business. Before opening the tribe’s Harrah’s-brand casino, there were no funds for a fire department -- one that could have protected the reservation from the numerous wildfires that devastated homes and land. There was no tax base. The tribal government had no way to impose law and order on the reservation, pay police for crime prevention, or prosecute lawbreakers. The tribal council wrote sound policies and ordinances, but lacked the money or means to enforce them. No paying jobs existed on the reservation. Doctors, dentists, and medical treatment were luxuries until the Indian Health Care clinic opened in 1973.
City and county services ended at the reservation boundaries. The distance from commercial corridors of population and the rural location of the Rincon reservation made it impossible to undertake viable retail and manufacturing businesses. Hope for a better future on the Rincon homeland was scarce as well. Tribal members had to find work and education elsewhere.
Tribal Government Gaming Fuels Economic Development
However, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s things began to look up for tribal governments. Tribes began experimenting with various forms of gaming, and an era of prosperity for many was born. With the changes and possibilities arising from gaming as a means of economic development, a vision of independence was born. A hunger for self-sufficiency, freedom from poverty, and the vision of independency from unreliable and humiliating federal taxpayer-supported programs motivated many tribes to enter into the risky new business of gaming. For the Rincon people, gaming would mean the realization and return of self-government.
It was not until 2000 that the Rincon Band, like many other tribes in California, won the right to engage in gaming as the result of a voter-approved change to the State Constitution. With that change, the tribe, after hundreds of years of failed experiments in economic development, began the process of becoming self-sufficient and investing in a functioning, modern government.
The Rincon Harrah’s Partnership
The fact that in California, Las Vegas-style gambling is only legal on federally recognized tribal lands gives tribes the necessary competitive edge to market to individuals willing to come to reservations to play. This, in turn, allows tribes to generate revenues from gaming-related commercial enterprises. In 2002, Rincon contracted with Harrah’s-brand gaming operations, HCAL., LLC, to build and manage the tribe’s casino. With the opening of the then-named Harrah’s Rincon came the opportunity for the tribe to bring jobs to the reservation; move into the future as a government; and offer thousands of underemployed residents of the local rural communities, well paying employment with health and other benefits.
Since that first entry into the California casino industry, Rincon and Harrah’s have built a successful partnership, a loyal customer base, and consistent profitability, leading to the opening of a newly expanded $160 million destination resort property in 2014.