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New gaming resort coming to Phoenix area

CHANDLER, Ariz. – Opening a new gaming resort in a tough economy may seem like a high stakes gamble, but the Gila River Indian Community has placed its wager on the success of the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, slated to open in October.

Once completed, the $200 million project will boast a 100,000-square-foot casino, and a 241 room, 10-story hotel, in addition to creating about 750 new jobs.

Hiring is scheduled to begin in mid-July, said Gerald Ryan, director of hotel operations.

When Ryan was asked if he was concerned that the lagging economy could affect occupancy and overall business at the resort, he said, that while “now” is not a good time for new hotels to open, he sees a viable market to draw upon when they open this fall. “It would have certainly been a difficult season for any hotel to open.”

Ryan is right about it being a difficult season for the hotel industry.

Hotel occupancy rates tumbled significantly in 2008, and Phoenix has experienced the steepest decline in RevPAR (revenue per available room) in the country. It declined eight percent when compared to statistics from 2007, according to a report from Smith Travel Research, an international firm that collects data on the hospitality industry.

The report also noted that Phoenix hotel occupancy rates dropped nearly 11 percent in 2008.


But STR statistics don’t point to gaming revenue earned from tribal casinos. The Casino City Press 2008-2009 edition of the Indian Gaming Industry Report stated that tribal gaming revenue profits reached $26.5 billion in 2007. Revenue grew five percent in 2007, down from 15 percent in 2005 and 10 percent in 2006.

Ryan said the location of the resort, visible from the I-10 and about 11 miles east of Sky Harbor International Airport, will lure business travelers.

“There’s a tremendous amount of corporate offices within a short distance of the hotel, and given its location right off I-10, I think it will be an ideal location for corporate travelers to come and stay.”

He added that a few of the Scottsdale-Phoenix based resorts depend heavily on the advanced bookings of conferences and tradeshows to fill rooms, and these hotels’ bottom lines hurt when companies bow out, regardless of the reason. Bookings for the 12,000-square-foot conference center are short term, with booking two weeks to three months out, he said, which allows some versatility with marketing strategies.

To capture overflow conference bookings, he plans on working closely with their nearby sister hotel, the luxury Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa.

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Meanwhile, the Sheraton-managed, Gila-owned property, is adding a 35,330-square-foot meeting space to its existing 100,000-square-feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space, with completion slated for June. The luxury resort was designed to reflect authentic Pima and Maricopa culture from the exterior to interior design to the services it offers at the Aji Spa & Salon.

The grand opening of the Wild Horse Pass Resort & Casino will mark the closure of the Wild Horse Pass Casino, located next door to the Sheraton property.

Elegant in its own rite, the new Vegas-style casino will feature 46 table games including Blackjack, Pai Gow Poker, Let it Ride and Three Card Poker. Plans also call for 25 poker games and 1,002 slot machines.

Additionally, the casino will include a high roller Blackjack and slot area, and non-smoking gaming areas.

General Manager John Straus said they are mapping out some of the gaming promotions, but the goal is to “wow our existing and new guests.”

This adult playground should attract plenty of Phoenix locals with its eclectic selection of bars and entertainment. The Center Bar, situated in the middle of the casino, is a sports-oriented watering hole with wide screen televisions to watch sporting events.

Located on the second floor is a nightclub that will offer guests a full service bar, access to an outdoor patio, and a DJ spinning the latest dance club hits.

The entertainment venue will hold about 1,500 people once completed.

For guests looking for a more subdued atmosphere, the bar Encore will feature lounge acts, and Reflections, a quiet place to sip on a cocktail. Drink chefs plan to dazzle guests with fancy and exotic cocktails at the Classics With A Twist bar.

“The property is shaping up to be one of a kind. Trendy, cool and hip, but never losing sight of our core market of slot players,” Straus said.

The dining options should set a classy tone for the resort with the opening of Shula’s American Steak House, founded by Miami Dolphins former coach and Hall of Fame recipient, Don Shula. 24/7 Café and Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill round out the sit-down dining experiences.

Additional options include a food court with five restaurants, and a Starbucks and Dreyer’s Ice Cream.

Out of the 241 rooms, there are 20 suites, and one 1,300-square-foot grand suite, Ryan said. Modern in décor, all the rooms are equipped with high-speed wireless Internet and flat screen televisions, and access to the pool/spa and fitness center.

Golfing and shopping – along with the Old West themed Rawhide Western Town & Steakhouse, Koli Equestrian Center, Firebird International Raceway, and Gila River Indian Community’s HuHuGam Heritage Center – are within a reasonable distance from the resort.