New casino near Gilbert should bring jobs to area

Casino rendering
Gila River Hotels & Casinos plans to open Santan Mountain Casino in the next 18-24 months, company officials said. Future plans for the area include a hotel. (Rendering courtesy Gila River Hotels & Casinos)

Gila River Hotels & Casinos plans to open Santan Mountain Casino in the next 18-24 months, company officials said. Future plans for the area include a hotel. (Rendering courtesy Gila River Hotels & Casinos)

Image description
(Source: Gila River Hotels & Casinos/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
(Source: Gila River Hotels & Casinos/Community Impact Newspaper)
Image description
(Source: Gila River Hotels & Casinos/Community Impact Newspaper)
A new 160-acre, $150 million casino is expected to open a couple miles west of Gilbert town limits within the next two years.

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 décor, breathtaking mountain views and state-of-the-art amenities set against the backdrop of the pristine, picturesque desert,” Deliah Rose, corporate director of brand and hospitality at Gila River Hotels & Casinos, said in an email.

Gila River Casino Santan Mountain 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, 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; it will elevate our prestige in the gaming and hospitality industry as we continue to craft an entertainment dynasty,” Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community governor, said 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 Santan 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. “We would consider it very unsuccessful if we didn’t design something compatible with the region. We always want to design something compatible. There won’t be flashing neon lights and laser beams in the sky.”

The second phase of the project is expected to include a hotel, but a timeline and details have yet to be announced.

Moving forward

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 Highway 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.”

Sarah Watts, Gilbert Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, also saw the casino’s potential benefit to the Gilbert economy. She called the Gila River Indian Community a strong and valued partner in the East Valley.

“A new casino this close in proximity certainly is a tool for economic growth,” she said in an email. “With a project of this size and scope we can anticipate employment opportunities, an increase in tourism and retail sales, and greater tax revenue.”

Tom Blodgett contributed to this report.
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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