After years of debate, Navajos debut 1st Ariz. casino-resort

2013-05-22T00:00:00Z After years of debate, Navajos debut 1st Ariz. casino-resortThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

New sets of twin arrows are beckoning travelers on Interstate 40 in Northern Arizona, about 20 miles east of Flagstaff.

The Navajo Nation has opened its first casino in the state, the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, named for an old trading post, diner and gas station where red and gold twin arrows aimed at the ground remind motorists of what once was the "best little" stop on the interstate.

The casino opens round-the-clock starting Friday, when it will hold a grand opening.

The tribe has infused the new business with bits of Navajo culture and tradition. Turquoise twin arrows in the logo, for instance, symbolize initiative and the journey of the Navajos through time.

"It brings jobs that we don't have in the past, it brings revenue, it brings recognition to the Navajo Nation and Navajo people," said tribal President Ben Shelly.

A glittering chandelier greets visitors in the casino's entryway, a depiction of the Navajos' rise into the fourth world where humans came into existence.

Stone walls and birch branches in the steakhouse represent the nesting sites of eagles - among the most revered birds of American Indian tribes - while the design on the hotel's exterior hints at a culture of weaving.

The main entrance faces east in the same way as traditional homes on the reservation, to capture the rising sun. Navajo artists were commissioned to create artwork that hangs throughout the casino, and some of the rooms have views of the San Francisco Peaks, held sacred by Navajos.

The Navajo Nation signed gaming compacts with Arizona and New Mexico a decade ago, clearing the way for the gaming industry on the nation's largest American Indian reservation. Tribal members later approved gaming in a referendum vote after twice rejecting it. The tribe's first casino opened east of Gallup, N.M., in 2008, and two others followed in New Mexico.

Twin Arrows employs about 500 people right now, the majority of whom are Navajo, but the workforce will grow to 800, said Derrick Watchman, chief executive of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise.

Each of the tribal casinos follows Navajo law in that they give preference to Navajos in employment and are expected to become one of the largest employers of tribal members.

In time, the Navajo casinos are expected to generate about $30 million annually for the tribe, Watchman said.

As for distributing per-capita payments to Navajos, Shelly said, "There's too many of us." But he said the tribe is looking at creating a fund in which the roughly 300,000 tribal members can invest and receive a portion of dividends each year from tribal enterprises, including casinos.

Twin Arrows, at 267,000 square feet, has 90 hotel rooms and suites, a conference center, more than 1,000 slot machines and table games. The restaurants will feature Navajo favorites like fry bread and mutton stew.

A spa, golf course, more hotel rooms, a gas station and RV park also are planned. Other plans for the site could include housing, an airport, shuttle service from Flagstaff and Tuba City, and an amusement park.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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