California Tribe: Pandemic ‘Perfect Time’ to Launch Hospitality Group

Last month, the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi-Yokut tribe of Northern California announced a new business arm, Palace Hospitality, giving other tribes a chance to benefit from its expertise and “intellectual capital.”

California Tribe: Pandemic ‘Perfect Time’ to Launch Hospitality Group

In December, the Tachi Palace Casino Resort, an enterprise of Northern California’s Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi-Yokut tribe, announced a new business called Palace Hospitality. Its stated purpose: to give other tribes a chance to benefit from the tribe’s more than 37 years in the gaming business.

Some might not consider this the ideal time to launch such a venture. But Michael Olujic, general manager of Tachi Palace Casino Resort and principal of Palace Hospitality, disagrees.

“The pandemic was the perfect time for us,” he told GGB News in an exclusive interview. “We could organize our property to continue to make our casino safe for our associates and our guests. We know we have a quality management executive team and all the resources needed to take on all challenges for new and existing Native nations.”

Olujic, recently named one of 25 People to Watch in 2021 by Global Gaming Business Magazine, has been in the gaming and hospitality industry for 15 years. He joined Tachi Palace Casino Resort as general manager last year. Before that, he was CEO of Kewadin Casinos in Michigan, general manager of Gila River Gaming Enterprises in Arizona, general manager and CEO of North Star Mohican Casino Resort in Wisconsin, and chief financial officer for the Oneida Nation of Indians of Wisconsin.

“I’ve worked with start-ups, renovations and rebranding,” said Olujic. “I’ve been able to take distressed casinos and get them on track, making them profitable. I’ve worked with successful properties to help them grow, to catch the lower-hanging fruit. I’ve worked in competitive properties and merged them for cohesive profit-sharing.”

Before Covid-19 struck, the tribe was concentrated on a resort expansion that will eventually add more than 43,500 square feet of gaming floor and a new 35,000-square-foot bingo hall and event center as well as a new hotel tower with 120 guest rooms and a new conference center. After Covid struck, those plans took a back seat to the hospitality unit.

“Working with other tribes gave us the idea to use our expertise to expand, building outside our local area to push our business knowledge and share with tribes to develop their brands,” said Olujic. “Tachi Palace Casino Resort team has over 37 years in the industry, building from the ground up with a bingo hall to a casino resort. The lessons learned—what works, what didn’t work—is the intellectual capital we bring to the table, so we can consult with other tribes to help them.”

In contrast to commercial consultants who are often embedded in their clients’ operations for years, Palace Hospitality wants to help gaming tribes become self-sufficient without becoming a permanent part of their operation.

Size doesn’t matter, Olujic noted. “We can help a small start-up with one hundred machines to a large casino resort to five thousand machines with our skillset. Our skills and knowledge of both, we can make this work. We can work with both ground-up and existing. For the existing, we can consult and give direction on how they can become efficient, decisive in their implementation, and solidify their brand in their market. Our years of industry knowledge also makes us an asset for new builds entering the market. We’ll be able to consult and manage them to be an industry leader in their market.”

Is there still a market for new tribal enterprises? Olujic said he’s bullish. “Each market can grow and expand,” he said. “One of the pitfalls other tribes have gone through is doing too much too soon. All growth comes in phases, having the right strategy and the information we advise on building in stages. As they develop, they’ll learn more about their guests in their local area and continue to meet their needs.”

Olujic summed up Palace Hospitality’s management philosophy as: “Execution and empowerment.”

“Our environment is based on a flat organizational set-up. We’re detailed with planning. We’re concise in our implementation. We’re not bogged down with committees and administration ties. We develop a strategic plan. From the GM down to the line staff, everyone knows their part and is empowered to implement and execute the plan. Doors are open, and communication flows. This empowerment environment gives all levels of our team the ownership and pride to build a quality product day in and day out.”

Technology also plays a role, he said. “You always want to mix cutting-edge technology with a personal touch. We look to blend technology with the guest experience of front-line associates. As each casino enters the market, there’s a development they have with their local guests, keeping sight of the human touch and having the convenience of technology on hand.” 

Palace Hospitality offers the following services: development negotiations, strategic planning, expansion forecasting, resort development, community relations, operations, employee management, marketing and outreach and technology implementation.

For more information, visit

Articles by Author: David Ross

David D. Ross edits the Escondido Times-Advocate and Valley Roadrunner newspapers. A freelance journalist for over 40 years, Ross is knowledgeable about San Diego's backcountry and has written on tourism in Julian, Palomar Mountain, San Diego Safari Park—and the area’s casinos. He has a master’s degree in military history from Norwich University.