Casino boss gives delegates update

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Feb. 23, 2012

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Officials for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise met with the members of the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday to give them an update on the tribe's casino operations.

The committee had requested the meeting more than two months ago but gaming officials asked for a postponement until after the tribe's latest casino, Northern Edge in Upper Fruitland, N.M., had been opened.

The meeting was held at Northern Edge in one of the casino's new conference rooms.

Bob Winter, CEO of the enterprise, said he gave the committee members a detailed analysis of the casino's revenue.

Under federal and tribal law, these figures are considered proprietary and are not released to the public because they include information that other casino operators would find useful.

Winter said the information provided to the committee showed that the tribe's casino operations are doing well and that progress is being made on construction of more casinos in Arizona in the next couple of years.

One of the main topics during the meeting, which was not open to the public, was the question of refinancing the debt owed to the tribe by the enterprise.

Winter said the purpose of this discussion was to see if the tribe was willing to change the current financing plan so that the enterprise would have more flexibility in the use of its profits.

The enterprise currently owes the Navajo Nation between $50 million and $60 million for construction and development of the enterprise's first three casinos and has a credit line of about $100 million for the construction of the Twin Arrows casino and resort being built east of Flagstaff.

Winter said the committee was also given an update on construction underway at Twin Arrows and work being done to develop a casino on Pinta Road along Interstate 40 on land owned by the Navajo Oil and Gas Enterprise.

Twin Arrows is expected to be completed and opened in the spring of 2013 with the Pinta Road casino expected to be opened shortly thereafter.

One of the main problems with the Pinta Road proposal, Winter said, deals with building a ramp off of Interstate 40. The tribe is currently looking at traffic studies to see if that is possible and to determine just how much that will cost.

Right now, he said, it looks like the cost will be in excess of $1 million.

Northern Edge is still doing good business - better than expected - which has not gone unnoticed by casino operations in the Four Corners area who have begun increasing their advertising and promotion budgets.

Winter said this is normal whenever a new casino opens up and all of the casinos in the area - SunRay Park and Casino near Farmington, Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio, Colo., and Ute Mountain Casino in Towaoc, Colo. - have noticeably increased their advertising on billboards and in newspapers and radio within the past month.

All three are expected to take hard hits as Navajos have been among their steadiest customers and many are now going to Northern Edge.

None of these casinos are talking publicly about how much business they are losing because of Northern Edge but SunRay officials have told San Juan County officials to expect less this year from their share of the profits.

The race track operation leases county land for $2 million a year but also provides the county with a share of the profits that in the past have provided the county with an extra million a year.

The county has been told that its share of the profits may drop by as much as 35 percent this year.

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