By Linda Kor
It’s been six months since the Twin Arrows Casino opened its doors and although they’ve had a slow start, Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE) officials believe the casino is beginning to build some steam.
“It’s been a slower start than was anticipated, but we’re starting to make some progress,” stated Derrick Watchman, CEO of NNGE.
Watchman cited issues with the time it took to get employees licensed for gaming in a process that involved Arizona Gaming and the Navajo Nation, as well as the inability to provide more signage. Although the casino itself is on tribal land, the land between the casino and Interstate 40 isn’t and Coconino County has a prohibition against billboard signage.
“We just installed a new digital sign about three weeks ago right at the edge of the tribal land and that seems to be making a difference in traffic,” explained Watchman. “I think a lot of people see the construction going on and think we haven’t opened yet.”
He estimates that the casino sees about 2,100 visitors each day; the initial projection was 3,500. “This is a much different demographic than our sister casinos and so we weren’t sure what to expect. With the second phase of our construction underway I think that will change,” said Watchman.
The casino has the capacity to serve 700 people in the convention center, but currently there are only 90 hotel rooms. The second phase of development, which will be complete in May, will bring that number up to 200.
In addition to the casino’s plan for expansion, Watchman explained sister agencies of the Navajo Nation are planning to develop the land adjacent to the casino. Navajo Nation Shopping Centers, Inc. acquired a total of 70 acres next to Twin Arrows for a development it is calling The Outlook at Glittering Mountain.
Byron Hoskie, business development specialist for Navajo Nation Shopping Centers, said the first phase will include the entertainment center and construction is projected to start in the summer of 2014. The entertainment center could include a state-of-the movie theater with six to eight screens, a bowling alley, a video arcade, laser tag, a snack bar and indoor mini golf. “It will be similar to Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino in Maricopa, but on a smaller scale,” explained Hoskie.
The overall plan for the 70-acre parcel of land will unfold over a 10-year period in three phases that will eventually include retail stores, a cultural center and housing. Those plans have yet to be approved by the Coconino County Planning and Zoning Commission, something that must take place since that land is not tribal land.
According to Watchman, the objective is to provide jobs and create an environment that promotes the Navajo culture.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been dedicated to advancement of the Navajo people, and I am keenly aware that jobs on the reservation are essential to improving the quality of life,” he said.
“We are all working vigilantly to see that the Navajo hospitality and gaming invitation is viewed worldwide as a sincere must-see offer, and one made and accepted in the spirit of Navajo trust.”
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By Linda Kor