Officials: Twin Arrows to offer four-star experience

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

TWIN ARROWS, Ariz., May 23, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort patrons look at the crystal balls hanging from above them before making their way into the casino on Friday.

SECOND FROM TOP: Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort's head chef Jason Smallcanyon, middle, prepares a number of meals with other chefs on Friday.

A s officials for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise prepared for the grand opening of the new Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort tomorrow, May 24, members of the Native media were invited to visit last Friday and Saturday to see first-hand the Navajo's most expensive casino.

While minor work was still being done in various parts of the casino and hotel, it was open for area residents to give the 777 employees the chance to get some actual training on good customer service and how perform their jobs.

That was one of the reasons why members of the media were offered a chance to stay at the hotel at no cost since it would allow staff there to get training before the grand opening.

So these are some of the things that came out during those two days:

The final cost of the casino and resort is about $200 million, according to Derrick Watchman, CEO of the gaming enterprise.

That money came from the Navajo Nation, which decided to use its own money instead of seeking the money from outside banks.

That was a good thing because when the enterprise was seeking money for the project in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. was heading into a deep economic recession and bank officials suddenly began turning down requests for any type of casino loans.

The enterprise has a seven-year loan from the tribe and intends to pay it off at that time. With the interest and principal payments, the enterprise during the first year will be paying the tribe more than a million dollars a week.

But even with this level of payback, Watchman said the enterprise is hoping by the second or third year to have enough revenue to provide the tribe with a profit payment as it has done with earnings from the tribe's three casinos in New Mexico.

The enterprise made a $5 million profit payment to the tribe in 2012 and has added another million dollars since then.

More plans in the works

Not everything will be up and running when the casino and hotel opens on Friday, however.

The hotel, for example, currently has 90 rooms open, while another 110 are currently under construction and should be completed by February or March 2014.

A food court is already open, as is a sports bar, a general restaurant and a high-end dining restaurant (that will provide food 24 hours a day). Another restaurant - The Reef, Seafood Bar - won't be ready until this summer.

With the nearest gasoline station eight miles away, the enterprise is working with the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company to open a station at the site in the next few months.

The enterprise is also planning on building a spa, which will include two relaxing mineral pools, a tranquility room, and complete with therapeutic massages. That's expected to open in early 2014.

Also on the drawing boards but planned for later are a golf course and an RV park.

A four-star experience

The hotel management said the plans are to produce a four-star eating and hotel experience for people who come to the hotel, which would give it the highest rating of any establishment in the area at prices that are very reasonable compared to what is being charged in Flagstaff at the higher-end hotels.

For example, regular rooms will go for $159 during weekdays and $179 on weekends. The highest priced room is the presidential suite, which goes for $429 a night.

The presidential suite, which Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly will be able to use when he visits (if it is not also booked), is 2,000 square feet - about four or five times the size of a regular room.

It has a private living room, a wet bar and tons of room to move around in.

There are also executive suites available that are between 640 and 740 square feet.

In the smaller rooms that were made available to the media, the hotel provided a plate of cheese and crackers for the guest's arrival. Shortly after the guest checks in, a staff employee comes and brings a plate of chocolates and later in the day, turns down the bed and freshens up the bathroom.

The rooms also have their own safes and mini-refrigerators and their own Keurig coffee stations.

Guests, when they are not gambling, will also have access, at no extra charge, to an indoor heated pool, a whirlpool and the state-of-the art fitness center.

The player's club

Going into the casino, one of the first things that was noticeable was a long line of people, mostly non-Natives, who were waiting to sign up for the casino's player cards.

This line, even with the soft opening, was present for much of the day and casino officials said the casino was adding an average of 700 new members to the player's club every day. That's expected to increase substantially after the grand opening.

The casino has more than 1,000 slots and 24 table games such as blackjack. There is also a poker room with 12 tables available for playing all kinds of poker. The minimum bet for playing blackjack is $5 and the maximum bet allowed under state law is $1,270.

Because of Arizona state law, the casino cannot provide games like roulette and craps but it is allowed to provide electronic versions of these and other popular games.

The casino has spared no expense in making the area where the slots are uniquely Navajo with special displays showing an animated version of the Navajo Emergence story.

Helping Navajo businesses

The eating experience includes Four Elements Cafe, which provides food 24 hours a day to casino users as well as to people staying at the hotel. There's a sports bar, complete with numerous televisions, a coffee bar and the Zenith Steakhouse.

During the meal served there for the media representatives, management stressed that all of the meat served at the casino and hotel come from beef purchased from Navajo ranches as part of a program by the gaming enterprise to help Navajo businesses.  

The casino has also spent more than $1 million in purchasing art from Navajo craftspeople, which is displayed throughout the casino and hotel.

The enterprise selected some 40 Navajo artists who brought in samples of their work and the pieces that were selected by a special committee adorn many of the walls throughout the casino and dining areas.

The eating experience includes all price ranges.

There is a food court that includes Navajo, Asian and Southwest food items. People can pay $8.99 and select from all three styles. People with a certain number of points on their player's cards receive a $2 discount and this goes down to zero for those with the highest level of points.

Speaking of getting things free, the casino has reserved 30 rooms at the hotel, including the presidential suite, to give out to high rollers in an effort to get them to stay over and continue playing another day.

Everyone who comes can also get free valet service to park their cars, although the management would encourage patrons to tip the valets.

Another thing that was stressed to the media throughout the two days was that the casino and hotel was doing everything it can to make working there an enjoyable experience.

One of the ways they are doing this is by having a dining area just for employees where they can get a free meal at every shift. Cooks are on duty in the employee area throughout most of the day and night and when the cooks are not there, sandwiches will be prepared for employees to eat as well as various types of cereal.

At the high end of the eating experience is the Zenith Steakhouse and management said the average meal there, which includes a glass of wine, will run about $60.