By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

Preparing for a resort project that would add a hotel, conference center and new on Humboldt Road, Elk Valley Rancheria has contracted a Las Vegas, Nev.-based gaming firm to run its existing casino.

Last fall, the National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal agency that regulates gaming on Indian lands, approved the management agreement between the tribe and Ellis Gaming Elk Valley Management, part of Ellis Gaming andamp; Entertainment LLC. The plan will take effect April 1.

The tribe has contracted the firm over the past year as a consultant and noticed more efficient operations and higher profits at its casino on Howland Hill Road.

andquot;We've had significant growth over the past year,andquot; said tribal attorney Bradley Downes.

Ellis Gaming helped select new slot machines, food and drink services and products. The casino increased its number of slot machines from 279 to 342 and added more poker and other card games.

andquot;We've obviously had some success in operating the casino, but we realize we could do a better job,andquot; Downes said. andquot;There's always room for improvement and that's what we're attempting to do.andquot;

With the commission-approved, five-year agreement that now lets Ellis Gaming run the facility, the firm will likely enact long-term marketing ideas and staff training, said R. Shawn Ellis, CEO of Ellis Gaming andamp; Entertainment LLC.

andquot;Marketing is probably the single biggest area for improvement,andquot; Ellis said, noting plans for a new restaurant and reward programs such as trips, show tickets and meals. andquot;Make Elk Valley a destination in the area.andquot;

The company will likely install a casino general manager for the now-vacant position that three different people have filled over the past year, Downes said.

andquot;There's a limited pool of capable casino managers in Crescent City or, for that matter, within the region,andquot; Downes said, adding that the casino will keep its existing 120 workers. andquot;All the employees except the general manager will remain employees of the tribe.andquot;

Resort plans

The management agreement comes as the tribe waits on final approvals for a new resort on 9 acres of its more than 203-acre Martin Ranch parcel.

andquot;We have a resort coming and we need to prepare ourselves for the next step,andquot; said Ray Martell, who manages environmental, economic and community affairs at the Elk Valley Rancheria. andquot;It just helps us to get ready for the new resort.andquot;

Plans call for a 156-room hotel, a conference center that could seat about 1,200 and amenities such as a spa. A casino with 350 to 400 slot machines would replace the existing one on Howland Hill Road.

The tribe has not yet decided if Ellis Gaming will run the new casino, Downes said.

Plans have eliminated a proposed golf course from the project after concerns over possible impact to marshes and wetlands.

The tribe still needs decisions from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approving the site for gaming and approving the proposed resort's expected environmental impact to the land.

Downes expects those decisions in late spring. Then the tribe will wait for the bureau to place the land into trust, a requirement for gaming. U.S. government ownership would also ensure the tribe's governmental jurisdiction over the land, eliminating state and county restrictions.

andquot;There's an added level of protection, if you will, to preserve that land for use by the tribe,andquot; Downes said.

After gaining trust status, the tribe will draft building design plans and voluntarily conduct public reviews through the California Coastal Commission. Work on the project could start early in the fall.

andquot;We're excited that we're coming to an end,andquot; Downes said.

Reach Hilary Corrigan at