After nearly two years of construction activity, the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort—designed as the tribe’s flagship gaming facility—is expected to open in mid-May. While the Navajo Nation operates three casinos in New Mexico, this will be the first gaming site on the Arizona portion of the sprawling reservation.
“We’re taking a quality approach on this one,” attorney Mike Bielecki told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Our vision is that of a nice resort as well as a nice casino, but not like those in Las Vegas. Casinos get big and ugly when they’re across the street competing with each other in an area the size of a postage stamp. That’s counter to our marketing plan.”
As depicted in the casino’s logo featuring two outward-bound arrows that symbolize the tribe’s “proactive approach to all things as well as the Journey of the Navajo throughout time,” according to the Twin Arrows website, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly underscored the new resort’s ambitious and unique undertaking.
“Twin Arrows is going to be a casino resort unlike any other on the Navajo Nation,” Shelly said proudly.
Although the tribe broke ground on the casino in March 2011 with an original projected opening date of July 2012, design changes necessitated a revised schedule with a planned debut in Spring 2013. Construction estimates range between $150-200 million. The gaming site is taking final shape near the Twin Arrows exit off Interstate 40 east in Flagstaff (within the Leupp Chapter of the Navajo Nation) and will include a hotel, conference center, spa and golf course.
The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE), formed by the tribe in 2006, is charged with the development and operation of the four Navajo casinos. Bob Winter recently resigned as CEO of the Gaming Enterprise, a position he held since 2007, to concentrate his efforts exclusively on the opening of Twin Arrows. He was replaced by Derrick Watchman, former NNGE chief financial officer, on January 1.
NNGE’s long-term plan is to build up to six casinos within the Nation’s boundaries. The first, Fire Rock Navajo Casino in the Church Rock Chapter near Gallup, New Mexico, opened its doors in November 2008; Flowing Water Navajo Casino, located in the Tsé Daak’áán Chapter, near Shiprock, New Mexico, started doing business in October 2010. The tribe’s third gaming facility, Northern Edge Navajo Casino, began operating in January 2012 in the Upper Fruitland Chapter near Farmington, New Mexico.
The tribe anticipates its fourth gaming venture, billed as one of the most elaborate casinos in the Southwest, to drive tourism to the Flagstaff area.
“As part of its intended positive economic impact, Twin Arrows last weekend [February 1-3] held a job fair—in accordance with the Navajo Preference in Employment Act (NPEA)—to fill 800 positions ranging from accounting and administration to housekeeping and human resources,” Watchman told ICTMN. “Experienced dealers were given live card-shuffling/card-dealing auditions as potential staff for table games. Other applicants were interviewed for positions connected with the casino’s 1,100 slot machines.”
The NPEA, first adopted in 1985 and amended in 1990, regulates employment, mandates Navajos be given preferential hiring treatment and includes provisions such as job training for tribal members. In November, the Nation said 85 percent of all the construction workers on Twin Arrows have been Navajo, reported The Navajo Times.
At the recent job fair, NNGE “extended job offers for 52 percent of the available positions with four out of five offers going to Navajo tribal members,” Watchman said. “We collected about 1,500 applications to go with another thousand already in our inventory. We’re right on target with bringing folks on board, and I’m optimistic we’ll fill all 800 job slots by the time we begin operations in May. The economic impact will be impressive—with the incomes of these new jobs, we anticipate $20 million a year in benefits to the area.”
During a November tour through the casino’s skeletal structure, Winter estimated that the annual payroll at the casino will be around $47 million, reported The Navajo Times.
The theme of Twin Arrows is the four Navajo worlds, reflected in the resort’s interior and exterior. The walls will feature Navajo weaving, paintings and crafts. The tribe’s initial investment in Navajo artwork was projected at $500,000 and $700,000.
While the reservation is considered “dry,” President Ben Shelly has approved alcohol sales at the resort for its potential for revenue generation. “This is a sensitive subject, but in order to make our casinos competitive, we need to allow alcohol sales at select establishments,” he said.