Gila River Hotels & Casinos broke ground Oct. 18 on Santan Mountain Casino on Gila River Indian Community land at the southeast corner of Gilbert Road and Hunt Highway.
“Gila River Hotels & Casinos’ fourth development will boast lush decor; breathtaking mountain views; and state-of-the-art amenities set against the backdrop of the pristine, picturesque desert,” said Deliah Rose, corporate director of brand and hospitality at Gila River Hotels & Casinos, in an email.
Santan Mountain Casino will feature more than 850 slots and table games, BetMGM Sportsbook and dining options while creating more than 650 new jobs, Rose said. The Gila River Indian Community is broken into seven districts, and the new casino will occupy space in District 4.
“One major benefit of having our fourth casino operate in District 4 is the opportunity for employment for local residents,” Rose said. “We anticipate being able to add hundreds of new jobs that community members can take advantage of, and we expect that many of those will be filled by local district residents, just as was the case at Vee Quiva in District 6.”
Plans for the new casino were announced earlier this year after the state’s gaming compact with Arizona’s Native American tribes was reinstated and amended.
The amendment modified the number of slots permitted per tribe and casino; sports betting; the addition of craps, baccarat and roulette; and allowed for additional gaming facilities for select tribes based on location and enrolled members, Rose said.
“The state of Arizona, nonprofits and Gila River Indian Community rely on tribal gaming—12% of revenue is distributed to cities, towns and counties for community services and public safety programs,” Rose said. “Funds support economic development, education, health care, public safety and transportation.”
Santan Mountain Casino details
The new casino is expected to include a nearly 7,000-square-foot BetMGM Sportsbook and bar, more than 850 slot machines and table games, a high-limit gaming salon, multiple dining options, a bar at the center of the casino floor and 6,000 square feet of function space, Rose said.
“Not only will Santan Mountain bring additional revenue, sustainability and critical services to our community members, [but] it will [also] elevate our prestige in the gaming and hospitality industry as we continue to craft an entertainment dynasty,” said Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community governor, during the groundbreaking Oct. 18.
Rose said the construction is expected to take between 24 and 26 months to complete.
The casino was designed by Steelman Partners, the company behind the new Resorts World Las Vegas. Steelman Partners CEO Paul Steelman said this project was unique for one main reason: the backdrop of the San Tan Mountain.
“When I was approached by the tribe, I went to the site and stood there and was looking at the San Tan Mountain and thought, ‘My God, this is the most beautiful casino site in the world,’” Steelman said. “There was this slight breeze, and I thought to myself that this could be one of the first casinos that we design that features windows and outdoor spaces.”
Steelman said he believes other casinos lack the view or the weather that Arizona offers.
“We wanted to have these big windows overlooking a spectacular garden,” Steelman said. “We think, too, as people are recovering from COVID-19, I think the mindset will be there about enclosed spaces. People are going to want to, especially in Arizona, be outside and feel that breeze that comes across that site.”
Steelman said he believes Gila River Hotels & Casinos wants to cement itself as an entertainment anchor in the region, and the design of the casino meets that goal.
“I think whatever we have done today respects the site and the mountain and also respects what already existed in the area,” Steelman said.
The second phase is expected to include a hotel, but a timeline and details have yet to be announced.
Katie Taylor, Realtor and resident of the neighborhood closest to the new casino, said her main concern with the development is infrastructure improvements that will need to be made to accommodate Santan Mountain Casino.
“I am concerned about infrastructure and concerned about Hunt Highway being backed up and there being extra traffic,” Taylor said. “That is going to be a nightmare until that gets changed.”
Rose said infrastructure improvements to Gilbert Road and Hunt at the casino’s intersection are already in the works. Details on the road projects were not immediately available.
Taylor said that she is not, however, concerned about what the casino may do to property values in the area.
“I’m not super concerned about property values right there,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of exciting, actually; not only will there be a casino, but there will be other things like restaurants or nearby gas stations. It might also make short-term rentals in the area more lucrative.”
Taylor said while she cannot predict the future, she does not foresee nearby property values dropping due to the casino.
“Property values will stay high because of the supply and demand we are seeing,” Taylor said. “I’ve been looking at how Lone Butte Casino affected the area, and I can’t see a big change. I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about, hopefully.”
Taylor said she is looking at the positives of the new development.
“I see all the positives coming from this. I see jobs. I see bigger streets. I see restaurants and nightlife,” she said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any control over that land, so we might as well look at the positives.”