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Navajo committee appoints gaming CEO

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By Felicia Fonseca -- Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Robert Winter will have a long list of duties when he begins his job as chief executive of the Navajo Nation's gaming enterprise in June.

His agenda includes securing financing for the tribe's first casino - planned for Church Rock near Gallup - getting construction and architectural design budgets, hiring a chief financial officer and signing off on a business site lease.

''I have to get myself deeply enmeshed in those things,'' Winter said.

The Navajo Nation Council's Economic Development Committee confirmed Winter's appointment May 16 during a meeting in Window Rock, Ariz. Committee members voted 7 - 0 in favor of the confirmation.

Winter has entered into a two-year contract with the Navajo Nation in which he'll be paid $190,000 a year.

His first task will be to visit the Church Rock site and make recommendations to the tribal gaming board and Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. on how to get that casino running, he said.

''My object is to immediately get something that is entertaining and produces income for the nation,'' Winter said. ''Something operational on which they can produce other facilities.''

The tribal council approved a central gaming board in September 2006 to oversee and manage casinos built on Navajo land. In April, Shirley tapped Winter, a New Jersey lawyer who has worked with several tribes on resort development projects and casino management, to head the board. The move was expected to fast-track casino development of casinos on the country's largest Indian reservation.

''It's very, very safe to say that gaming is proceeding forward,'' said Eddie Lockett, executive director of the Navajo Gaming Regulatory Office. ''I'm not going to say in the most expeditious manner, but the nation has taken a giant step forward today.''

The Navajo Nation has identified six potential gaming sites - four in Arizona and two in New Mexico.

Plans for the Church Rock casino include a 27,000-square-foot building, 350 slot machines, table games, entertainment and a small cafe. The first building would be temporary; the tribe plans to build a permanent casino near Church Rock - about a mile from the temporary site.

Shirley has said the casino would be built in about four months, but Winter said May 16 he wasn't sure of the project's timeline.

''It's hard for me to say when it actually will occur, but I would agree that type of temporary structure doesn't take long to get up,'' Winter said.