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Tribe’s new facility to cater to gamers

Framer Patrick Chischillie works at the construction site for the new Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino, opening Nov. 1.

Framer Patrick Chischillie works at the construction site for the new Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino, opening Nov. 1.

The Valley’s newest casino, a $200 million facility under construction by the Gila River Indian Community off Interstate 10 west of Chandler and south of Ahwatukee, will open by Nov. 1, officials said recently. The skeleton of the 10-story, 242-room Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino can be seen for miles by cars approaching Ahwatukee and Chandler from I-10 or Loop 202.

The new Wild Horse Pass will replace a facility with the same name built in 1997 at 5550 W. Wild Horse Pass, just a short drive away.

It will have 1,002 slot machines, up from 875; 44 blackjack tables, up from 24; and 25 poker tables, up from 17, Wild Horse Pass general manager John Straus said.

Gila River Casino officials said the new hotel will not replace the 2002 Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, which caters increasingly to convention and business travelers.

Instead, Wild Horse Pass officials say the new hotel will primarily go after customers who are there for casino games and other Vegas-style entertainment.

The hotel is being funding entirely by the Gila River Indian Community, which also will manage it, Straus said.

“My ultimate goal is to have 100 percent of the rooms ‘comped’ to players,” Straus said. “It’s all about giving back to our VIPs.”

It’s an understatement to say the economy is not the best for opening a business that depends entirely on consumers’ discretionary income.

Last quarter, Arizona casino earnings were down a collective 16 percent, the biggest quarterly drop since Arizona legalized tribal gaming in 1993.

But Gila River opened its new Lone Butte casino in Chandler during the economic gloom of late 2008.

Officials say Lone Butte, which caters to gamers who live nearby, is busy – even though customers are spending less than when they felt flush.

Officials have said the new Lone Butte and Wild Horse Pass are part of their community’s long-range plans, and they saw no reason to delay them.

Wild Horse Pass intends to compete with Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, a resort and casino with 1,089 slot machines in Maricopa that is part of the international Harrah’s Entertainment chain.

Many Harrah’s guests come from elsewhere in the country – or world – for free rooms, meals, gifts and gambling vouchers that are part of the perks of being members of the Harrah’s Total Rewards players club.

Harrah’s is tough competition, but Wild Horse Pass officials say they are up for the game.

“This will be as close to Vegas as you can get without leaving town,” said Arlene Alleman, Gila River Casino’s director of corporate marketing.

Along with more gaming, the new Wild Horse Pass will have a nightclub, 1,400-seat showroom and Arizona’s first Don Shula’s American Steakhouse, which has a theme based on the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins. Menus are to be painted on NFL footballs and signed by the legendary coach.


New Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino

Estimated opening date: Nov. 1.

CEO: Harold Baugus.

General manager: John Straus.

Cost: $200 million.

Casino square feet: 100,000.

Number of restaurants and bars: 9.

Number of slot machines: 1,002.

Number of blackjack tables: 44.

Number of poker tables: 25.

Hotel: 10 stories, 242 rooms and a parking garage.

Number of employees: 1,500, including members of Gila River Casinos’ corporate staff.

Location: Interstate 10 about 3 miles south of Ahwatukee, at Exit 162.

Web: wingilariver.com.

Source: Gila River Casinos

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