The road to Paragon

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A quick and dirty proposal call with one serious proponent — a proposal set up by a rezoning worked out between the NPA council and the government of BC through the BC Pavilion Corporation. That’s how Vancouver ended up with a mega-casino complex slated to be attached to BC Place. 

It’s a view confirmed by Paragon’s President Diana Bennett in an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal shortly after Premier Campbell announced the casino project in 2010. "There were other bidders,” Bennett said, “but we had the casino license. Others could build a hotel, but no one could offer the economic impact that we could with our plans." 

Once the NPA Council and Pavco managed to amend the land use plan and add a “major casino” use, it was a done deal.

But how did a little-known privately held company that specializes in Indian casinos in the Southern US come to be the proponent behind this deal?

Paragon was founded in 2000 by Diana Bennett and Scott Menke. It’s not a big player in Vegas although Diana Bennett is the daughter of Mandalay Resort Group owner William Bennett. And Menke ran the Circus-Circus resort and casino for Mandalay. 

Paragon itself doesn’t operate any casinos in Vegas, unless you count a small pub it runs in order to retain its Nevada gaming license.

Paragon’s focus is elsewhere according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.  Bennett and Menke set up Paragon in 2000 to “explore casino management and development opportunities outside Southern Nevada.” 

In reality that meant Indian casinos, and after one failure, Paragon quickly located a band — a one-person band known as America’s “smallest” Indian band — near Palm Springs, negotiating a development and management deal and setting up a small casino on the abandoned Augustine reservation. Time magazine reported on the Paragon deal in a 2002 story on Indian casinos:

Maryann Martin presides over America's smallest tribe. Raised in Los Angeles in an African-American family, she knew little of her Indian ancestry until 1986, when at age 22 she learned that her mother had been the last surviving member of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians. In 1991, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) certified Martin and her two younger brothers as members of the tribe. Federal recognition of tribal status opened the door for Martin and her siblings to qualify for certain types of government aid. And with it, a far more lucrative lure beckoned: the right to operate casinos on an Indian reservation.

As Indian casinos popped up like new housing developments across Southern California, Martin moved a trailer onto the long-abandoned Augustine reservation in Coachella, a 500-acre desert tract then littered with garbage, discarded household appliances and junk cars, about 25 miles southeast of Palm Springs. There she lived with her three children and African-American husband William Ray Vance. In 1994, membership of the tiny tribe dwindled from three adults to one when Martin's two brothers were killed during separate street shootings in Banning, California. Police said both men were involved in drug deals and were members of a violent Los Angeles street gang.

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