July 4 chosen as opening date for Navajo Nation’s first casino

By Felicia Fonseca
Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 11-07

Bob Winter has worked with several tribes on resort development projects and casino development. And if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s that it’s best to open a casino on a holiday.

The gaming chief for the Navajo Nation announced recently in Church Rock that July 4 has been chosen as the tentative opening date for the tribe’s first casino.

He notes that it’s not a good idea “to pick days like Christmas or anything,” but days that people have off can draw big crowds, he said.

As dawn broke, a medicine man blessed the site just east of Gallup along Interstate 40.

“It’s tremendous visibility from the freeway,” Winter said. “The way you’ll see it, it will stand out just before you get to the exit.”

About 70 people later gathered at the Church Rock Chapter House to hear the announcement and feast on a traditional meal of lamb, corn stew, fry bread and cake.

Casino development has been a top priority of Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr.’s administration. Shirley says it will bring much-needed jobs to the Navajo people.

“This is what the people want,” he said. “We just need to bring them to fruition. It just makes me very happy to hear we’re really talking about construction, jobs and revenue.”

Shirley has said the casino will gross $32 million in its first year.

A total of six casinos are planned – two in New Mexico and four in Arizona. During October, the Navajo Nation Council approved a $100 million line of credit to finance casino development.

“Without that line of credit, we wouldn’t be able to move as quickly as we are,” Winter said.

The Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise already has begun advertising for casino staff, and Winter said the tribe will go out to bid on an architect next month.

The $25 million project is expected to create between 100 and 200 jobs, Winter said. Groundbreaking is set for Feb. 15.

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.