Thunder Valley increases visibility this new year

By: Patty McAlpin, Reporter
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Thunder Valley Casino Resort is taking steps to increase the venue’s physical, online, social media and entertainment presence in 2013.

“We want to identify the resort as a destination,” said Kathy Hickman, vice president of marketing for Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

To that end, the casino is enhancing dining experiences, updating the resort’s web site and offering more entertainment and events.

Lincoln Mayor Stan Nader said the improvements the casino is making “sound great.”

“The more people who are drawn to the area, the better,” Nader said.

Nader said the casino is one of the criteria sought by potential developers of an outlet mall in the Twelve Bridges area of the city because the casino is a high traffic generator.

Nader said he will reach out to casino officials to improve relationships between the city and the casino.

“They are an important economic driver in the region,” Nader said.

Dining experience is one of the aspects where the casino is investing resources. 

A “front of the house” separate entrance to High Steaks Steakhouse was completed over the weekend. The entrance is located on the south side of the property as a motorist pulls up to the lobby entrance. The project’s cost was approximately $60,000, including new signage from the south side of the building.

“This will give us the opportunity to showcase the four diamond award-winning steakhouse to a broader-base consumer,” said C.J. Graham, Thunder Valley Casino Resort’s general manager.

A new manager for High Steaks Steakhouse was hired last fall. Manny Dos Santos previously worked at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Roseville.

“Our owners (United Auburn Indian Community) frequented Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and said the food was great,” Graham said. “I had dinner and courted him.” 

Dos Santos has worked in Roseville, Sacramento and San Diego restaurants for the last 10 years.

Casino officials are revamping the venue’s buffet. The estimated cost is $3 million.

“Executives at Thunder Valley took the best elements at the finest buffets in Las Vegas to create the newly redesigned buffet at Thunder Valley,” said Doug Elmets, Thunder Valley spokesman. “The new buffet will have the look and feel of the Bellagio, Cosmopolitan and Wynn resorts.”

Elmets said the buffet will have new state-of-the-art culinary cooking equipment such as an open fire pizza oven and a flame-broiled rotisserie so chefs will be able to do “live cooking” in front of guests.

Food stations include Asian, Italian, International, American, Salad Bar and Desserts. The salad bar will include fresh in-house baked breads. All desserts are made on site. Guests can create their own sundaes.

Graham said the work to update the buffet is about 75 percent done. He said the work was completed in segments as to not impede the flow of guests. The last station featuring Asian food is scheduled to be finished for February 2013. 

John Ward and his wife, Karen Ward, went to the afternoon buffet Dec. 31. The Roseville couple visits the casino at least once a week.

“The smoothies are good,” John Ward said. “And I always have the lemon meringue pie. I love anything with lemon.”

Karen Ward said she enjoys playing the slots each time she goes to the casino. She puts in $20 until it’s gone. Ward said that she receives advertisements from the casino about gaming via e-mail.

Sarah Schimansky of Marysville said on Dec. 31 that she visits the casino once to twice a month to play the slots.

“I like coming to this casino more than the one in Oroville because this casino is bigger, has more games and a better chance of winning. I win here,” Schimansky said.


Focus on social promotion

The most recent version of the casino resort’s web site, which went live last October, features a

wide-screen format to show off promotions and venues, easier user navigation and club card signup. Improvements planned for this year will focus on improved enhancements for Reward Club members and bringing additional value to Thunder Club Card membership, said Eric Williamson, director of marketing for Thunder Valley Casino Resort.

Casino resort officials are excited about the response to a blog dedicated to The Poker Room.

“One-thousand visitors tuned in to watch the $200,000 Up the Ante Norcal Classic tournament’s final round,” Williamson said.

Photos of the winners were posted on the blog Dec. 4.

Williamson said experts on the floor streamed the final table of eight players by using three cameras live so the players’ families and other spectators off site could root for their favorite players. 

During the final round, experts gave play-by-play comments for those watching about how players make decisions.

“This was great content,” Williamson said. “They know the poker plays.”

Six-thousand visitors saw the blog page during the tournament.

 “This was a soft launch,” said Kathy Hickman, vice president of marketing for the casino resort. “We are very excited.”

The casino resort is focused on magnifying its social media presence through mobile applications, Facebook, Twitter and Yelp. The casino resort has 23,000 fans on Facebook.

Interactive gaming components will be offered off the property though social media so players can earn rewards when they are not physically in the casino.

A survey of customers by Thunder Valley revealed 51 percent of the resort’s customers own

I-phones, according to Williamson.

Last month, the new Thunder Valley Casino Resort APP launched. The app is available for iOS and Android devices. Search “thunder valley casino” in APP stores for those devices or visit



Casino resort officials are bringing back the summer concert series for 2013. Twenty-three concerts took place at the outdoor amphitheater last year. Attendance at last summer’s performances totaled 83,000 concertgoers.

Schimansky said she likes the amount of entertainment options available at Thunder Valley Casino.

“They have a lot of concerts here. There aren’t as many there (in Oroville),” Schimansky said.

The lineup being considered for this summer’s series will be based on guest feedback and preference.

Popular genres based on ticket sales were classic rock, oldies, soul/R&B/funk, country and comedy. Some of the bands featured during the summer 2012 series were Tesla, Creed, Foreigner, The Steve Miller Band, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Morris Day and The Time, Earth Wind & Fire, Smokey Robinson, Trace Adkins and Diana Krall.

“We’d like to expand to add 450 to 500 seats,” Williamson said.

The current amphitheater has 4,500 seats. 


Hotel accommodations

Although officials have no current plans to add more rooms to the casino’s hotel, they have the option.

The hotel was originally planned to be up to 26 stories, but the height was scaled back to 17 stories “when the economic bubble burst in 2008,” Graham said. “Three stories were not built out. We have the ability to add another 100 rooms or an additional 80 suites.”

Because the hotel has less than 300 rooms, Thunder Valley partners with local hotels in the area to find rooms for guests. 

“When we were talking about building a hotel, local hotel owners and operators told us if you build this hotel, you are going to cannibalize us,” Elmets said. “I assured them that would not be the case. I told them it would help their business and that’s exactly what has happened.”

Whenever he passes by the Holiday Inn Express, Nader said, the parking lot is full.

“I’ve heard there are nights you can’t get a room at the casino hotel because the hotel is full,” Nader said. “There may be a need for another hotel in Lincoln.”

Elmets said plans for a hotel and convention center adjacent to the Galleria in Roseville would be “great for the region.”

“We can use the extra space,” Elmets said.

The Roseville project would be located on a vacant city-owned property adjacent to the Westfield Galleria Mall and Highway 65, and could include a 25-room full-service hotel with approximately 30,000 square feet of meeting space comprised of breakout meeting rooms, executive boardrooms and a ballroom large enough to accommodate 1,000 seats in a banquet setting.

A survey conducted by the city of Roseville in November revealed 62 percent of voters and 79 percent of businesses support the project and the city’s pursuit of it, according to a Dec. 5th Roseville city staff report. 

The city of Roseville has not made a final decision about going forward with the project.



Thunder Valley Casino is one of many choices for gamblers seeking entertainment at local casinos owned by other tribes and gaming operations in Reno and South Lake Tahoe.

Another gaming facility is seeking to build a casino in rural Yuba County although the tribe’s ancestral land is located in Oroville. The Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians wants to build a casino, hotel and convention center next to the Sleep Train Amphitheater in Wheatland. Federal approval was granted in December. Gov. Jerry Brown also signed a gambling pact with the tribe.

Elmets said other tribes, including the United Auburn Indian Community, which owns Thunder Valley Casino, “are unhappy” about the venture.

“Sixty-three tribes played by the rules and located in aboriginal territory,” Elmets said. “This is an affront to them.”

Elmets said the government rulings will “set a horrible precedent and open the flood gates.”

Elmets also said he “believes the Enterprise Rancheria of Maidu Indians is going to have a tough time” getting the contract ratified by the Legislature

“There will be multiple legal challenges to tie this up for years,” Elmets predicted. “This is not an issue of competition so much as fairness. This tribe is not going to stand by and let this happen.”