Trump wanted to invest in Spotlight 29, a bingo parlor run by the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, a tribe of only 12 people.

Trump, a real estate mogul with a penchant for profit, came to Southern California, hoping to make a deal.

Spotlight 29 was the smallest casino in the Coachella Valley, but Trump saw the potential for big money. Over the next few years, Trump used his reputation to help raise money for a vastly expanded casino, adding slot machines, table games, a swanky nightclub and a private lounge for high rollers.

In return, the tribe hired Trump as casino manager while he taught them how the gaming industry worked.

In 2002, Spotlight 29 was re-branded with a flashy new name — Trump 29. Trump’s multi-billion dollar resort company was in bankruptcy, and the tribe was looking to cut a deal of its own. The dissolution of Trump 29 made for a twist ending.

Leaders terminated his management contract early, buying out Trump for a measly $6 million — less than the contract had earned him in a single year. Some Indian gaming advocates had worried that the larger-than-life tycoon would exploit the tribe, who were relative novices in a cutthroat industry.

But today, with the benefit of hindsight, sources agree that it was the tribe who walked away with the better bargain.

“When Trump came in, we all thought, ‘Oh gosh, he is going to really run the tables on the tribe,’ and it was actually just the opposite that happened,” said Victor Rocha, an Indian gaming advocate from Temecula. If you look at anything that guy has done in this industry, he has a lead thumb — it’s the opposite of a golden touch.” Today, the brash and boisterous businessman is the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, on a seemingly inevitable path to challenge Hillary Clinton for the White House.

Trump's campaign platform has been light on specifics, but he has promised to lead the country through “great deals” on healthcare, trade and diplomacy.

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Jesse Marx, The Desert Sun. Published a.m. PT March 21, 2016 Updated a.m. PT March 21, 2016. Share This Story. Tweet · Share · Share · Pin.