Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino plans to open a $143 million expansion later this year—bringing more hotel rooms, meeting space and a rooftop restaurant to the Chandler area.

Scheduled to open this fall, an 11-story hotel tower will be added to Wild Horse Pass and connect to its existing hotel. The 150-foot tower will feature 205 guest rooms for a total of 447 rooms on the Gila River Indian Community property, Wild Horse Pass officials said.

“This expansion is a major investment in the Gila River Indian Community and symbolic of a new chapter in our history,” Kenneth Manuel, Gila River Hotels & Casinos CEO, said in an email. “It reflects our commitment to be a leader in the gaming and hospitality industry through enhanced experiences and amenities, and we look forward to seeing the continued representation of our community’s culture in the expansion project.”

The project marks the first expansion since the property opened in 2009, said Deliah Rose, director of brand and hospitality at Gila River Hotels & Casinos, which is the gaming arm of the Gila River Indian Community.

In addition to the existing 12,000 square feet of conference space, the expansion will add 18,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and 4,000 square feet of outdoor meeting space. The new tower will feature a bar and lounge on the second floor and rooftop dining on the 11th—overlooking the desert landscape and nearby mountains.

“From up there you’ll even be able to see the wild horses kick up the dust in the distance—it’s going to be incredible,” Rose said.

The Wild Horse Pass expansion will generate 600 jobs including jobs in the hotel, events, and food and beverage departments, Rose said. The construction effort has also resulted in more than 300 jobs.

Nearby, a new stadium will be fully operational in May hosting Phoenix Rising FC—a professional soccer team with the USL Championship league. The new facility, including several practice locations, will be in the Wild Horse Pass entertainment area off I-10 and Loop 202. The team will relocate from Casino Arizona Field.

Phoenix Rising player Zac Lubin said he cannot wait for fans to see the new stadium.

“The idea the last few years, we sell out every game, and knowing what we can do with a stadium with higher capacity—it’s really great to see that investment in more seats,” Lubin said.

The changes to the area do not stop with developments, as the state Legislature and the state’s Native American tribes are in talks to revise the state’s gaming compact—the contract between the state and the tribes for gaming—which could elicit changes in the gaming industry statewide as well as the kind of games offered at Wild Horse Pass.

Changes in gaming

Rose said the gaming industry has gone through changes in the last year as the coronavirus pandemic forced a temporary shutdown of the state’s casinos in the summer and casinos were forced to modify their gaming floors for safety.

Partitions now exist between games, separating players from each other, and temperatures are taken upon entrance.

“2020 was a roller coaster—we closed our three 24-hour properties with over 3,000 employees twice,” Rose said. “No easy feat. But I can proudly say that our team became stronger due to it. We are a family to the core and came together swiftly to execute something that had never been done before. “

Construction was already underway before COVID-19 struck, Rose said, and the project itself has been part of the Wild Horse Pass long-term plan for years. Rose said Sundt, the contractor on the project, has continued progress on the project during COVID-19.

“The closure provided us the ability to limit the inconveniences the construction had on our guests during demo and concrete blasting,” Rose said. “It was a bit of a blessing in disguise. Watching the [project] come together has generated excitement, hope and resiliency during such a draining time.”

More changes in gaming may lie ahead in the state. Two sports betting bills were introduced in the state Legislature in February—both backed by Gov. Doug Ducey—that would allow for statewide mobile sports wagering as well as retail wagering at the state’s tribal casinos, professional sports venues and horse racetracks.

The bills would allow for 30 sports betting licenses—10 for pro sports franchises or venues, 10 for tribal casinos and 10 “limited” licenses for retail-only at horse racetracks.

House sponsor, state Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, says House Bill 2772 has the support of both the governor and the state’s tribes.

“There is illegal betting happening now, and the state isn’t capturing that tax revenue,” Weninger said. “This will bring that back in and benefit our community.”

In his State of the State address in January, Ducey announced “an opportunity for a modernized gaming compact that will bring in more revenue for our tribal nations and our state budget.”

If the new gaming compact is approved, the tribes could build more casinos—though how many are not yet known—and offer new games like baccarat and craps to existing offerings of slot machines, blackjack and poker.

“When the gaming compact is revised, we hope to offer our guests additional slots, new table game experiences and a sports betting experience unlike any other,” Rose said. “One of our brand pillars is our sports-centric passion. Our partnerships with all the local teams, including Cardinals, Suns, Mercury, Diamondbacks, Coyotes and ASU Athletics, will generate exclusive access and amenities for our players.”

Fostering community relationships

In addition to providing hotel and gaming space, Rose said Gila River Hotels & Casinos makes it a point to work with local cities, counties and businesses to further cement itself in the community.

“As an executive board member of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce, I have found a place at the table to share all that Gila River Indian Community and Gila River Hotels & Casinos provides to the state and Phoenix metro area,” Rose said. “We feel a close bond and connection to Chandler as many of our guests and team members are residents. Business entities enjoy our property for guest room needs, business retreats, team outings and more. As one of the largest employers in the East Valley, we strive to make positive impacts with our philanthropy, community support and partnerships.”

The Gila River Indian Community, under the gaming compact, contributes a percentage of its revenue to the state, cities, towns and counties, according to Max Hartgraves, a spokesperson with the Arizona Department of Gaming.

Tribes with casinos contribute a percentage between 1% and 8% of their gaming revenue each year. A majority of that—88%—is sent to the Arizona Department of Gaming, and 12% of the overall percentage of revenue goes directly into cities, towns and counties.

Statewide, tribal gaming generated more than $102 million for the state’s portion of this revenue in 2020, according to the Arizona Department of Gaming.

Rose said the Gila River Indian Community directly pumps funds into Chandler as well, providing funding for Chandler police and fire as well as Dignity Health—the company behind one of Chandler’s two hospitals. The community contributed funds to the new tower at Chandler Regional Medical Center, Rose said. That does not include charitable giving.

“Gila River Hotels & Casinos is proud to support local causes that aim to improve children’s welfare and educational programs across the state of Arizona,” she said.

Rose said she is excited to see what the new development becomes at the hotel and casino—and what it will, in turn, bring back to the community.

“We are confident to be delivering a Valley icon and a destination our guests have been anticipating and asking for,” she said.