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Casino Del Sol Resort, Spa & Conference Center Coming to Pascua Yaqui Reservation

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You’ve got to see this place to believe it. OK, you’ve heard that one before --- but in the case of Southern Arizona’s new Casino Del Sol Resort, Spa & Conference Center, you’ve got to actually be here to appreciate these state-of-the-art amenities.

The complex sits on the spectacular Pascua Yaqui Reservation. It wasn’t until 1978 that federal recognition was given as a sovereign nation and the small reservation community (now 15,000 enrolled members) began in New Pascua.

Nestled on 70-acres of high desert mesquite country just west of Tucson, the $130 million expansion project is slated to open on 11-11-11. It will include a 10-story-tall, 215-room, 161,000-square-foot resort hotel; an 18,000-square-foot conference center that holds 2,000 theatre-style; a spa called Hiapsi, the Pascua Yaqui word for ‘heart and soul’; a uniquely-designed palm-tree themed pool (with 6 of those palms part of the pool itself; 1,200 parking spaces on four levels, and a lawn large enough for 3,000 people at outdoor events.

The style and flair of the new facility is topped off --- literally --- by an 11,000-pound, 26-foot-tall, 26-foot-wide, perforated copper dome that features color-changing LED lighting inside. Created by a Las Vegas-based sign-maker accustomed to designing glitz and glamour, the dome’s perforations allow light to be visible at night --- a beacon drawing visitors to the site.

“Why would anyone want to go anywhere else?,” asks Steve Neely, Executive Director of Marketing.

"Investing millions of development dollars in a fragile economy is not only an economic statement, but a huge pride statement on behalf of the tribe," adds President and Chief Development Officer Mark Birtha. “It wasn’t that long ago that electricity was being introduced here and look what the community has done since.”

What they’ve done is look toward the future. “We produce 90 percent of the tribes revenue and when we open our expanded facilities in November, we’ll have added another 300-400 hires to our existing workforce.” Over half the current staff are Pascua Yaqui tribal members and we’re aiming to increase that rate to 80 percent with the newest additions,” says Wendell Long, an enrolled member of Oklahoma’s Choctaw Nation and a 30-year veteran of the gaming industry with stints at Foxwood and the Trump organization.

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Adds Tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio: “We work hard to provide our tribal members job opportunities and this gives us another chance to accomplish that goal.”

“Tribal members don’t leave,” he says. “They are owners of the property, here basically for their entire career, so you can invest time, money, and training and that investment will continue to bring reward. Housekeeping in a 4-star facility usually requires several years of experience, but we’re hiring tribal members with no experience and putting them through weeks of training. It’s more difficult to do it this way, but it’s better for the tribe as a whole by putting more members on the payroll."

“The end result of what we’re doing here will be something that will be around for a long time to help sustain the tribe, something you don’t see in commercial gaming. In tribal gaming you see the dividends of all your hard work building a community center or a wellness facility or housing. Everything we do makes the tribe stronger and with these additions we’ll increase the revenue stream to them so they can do even more.”

In the latest expansion, Casino Del Sol Resort, Spa, and Conference Center has raised the bar and established the benchmark by which others will be judged.

Without tipping his hand, Long says despite the long list of well-known entertainers who have already played his house --- names like Tony Bennett, Alan Jackson, Van Halen, Brooks & Dunn, Chicago, Bob Dylan, and the Doobie Brothers --- “Our grand opening acts will be some of the biggest names Tucson has ever seen. We’re happy about what’s happening here and we want others to be happy too.”

By building in a depressed economy, the tribe saved big bucks on eventual construction. “We actually saved $30 million over what we were going to initially build in 2008 before the economy slipped and we put things on hold,” Long says. “If there’s ever a good time to have a disruption to your business, it’s when the economy has flattened and business is down. Realize that we got bank approval for this project at the end of 2009 (groundbreaking was in February 2010), and at that time banks hadn’t given money for any casino project in over a year. So we’re financially solid and should improve even more by transforming into a resort situation rather than just being a local casino.”

Some of those saved construction dollars may be used for even more expansion in the future as discussions are already underway concerning a golf course, retail outlets, and other enterprises that will work synergistically to benefit the Pascua Yaqui tribe.