Youthful exuberance and veteran seasoning are rare qualities for a 34-year-old. Yet, they both describe Cody Martinez, the chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation near San Diego. The group marked 32 years in gaming in November.
Martinez was elected late in 2014, succeeding the longstanding former chairman, the well-respected Danny Tucker.
Martinez recently negotiated a 25-year compact extension with the state of California, which will likely enable the tribe to expand gaming operations and open a hotel. The added flexibility may prove valuable in light of imminent nearby competition from the Jamul Indian Village of the Kumeyaay, partnering with Penn National Gaming for a nearly $400 million casino launch expected this summer.
The development gives Martinez mixed emotions.
“On one hand, we are excited for the tribe because we have known them for many years and there has been a family history before gaming,” Martinez says. “On the other side of the game, Sycuan may absorb the greatest impact because of this. There would be nearly a 100 percent overlap of our competitive market share. The competitiveness of our casino is the No. 1 priority, driving the economic engine for the tribe. We had some expansion ideas that we put on the shelf in 2008 that we may now be looking to take off the shelf.”
Martinez has seen the tribe’s development from varied perspectives. He grew up on the Sycuan Indian reservation, and worked on the gaming commission and as tribal treasurer before being elected chairman. As treasurer, he guided Sycuan through the Great Recession that shaved industry revenues by about 30 percent.
Like other business executives, Martinez was forced to cut costs and eliminate jobs during the down time. In the tribal world, however, that’s comparable to laying off family members. It was difficult, he recalls, but the moves kept Sycuan viable. Hiring has risen amid the recovery.
Through it all, Martinez juggles opposing views from the conservative older generation and the more aggressive younger set. Against that backdrop, the area population grows.
“It’s important to gather all the facts and not make any knee-jerk reactions to anything,” he indicates. “We are hit with so much information, from commission regulations to employees, customers and normal investigations, that you have to navigate smartly. One of the hardest tasks in gaming, for me in the tribal world, is taking a political family environment and setting it aside for the good of all.”
Before becoming chairman, Martinez worked for the tribal community development department. He played an instrumental role in developing new infrastructure for residents of the reservation by guiding an $18 million capital project and securing federal grant funds. Martinez helped create a first-in-the-nation Natural Resource Management Plan for nearly 1,500 acres of land acquired by the Sycuan Band.
Through this plan, Sycuan entered into unique partnerships with the county of San Diego, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of California to preserve and protect sensitive wildlife habitat while ensuring the tribe’s future stability via economic development.