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Navajo Nation focuses on first casino in Arizona

Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise’s first casino in Arizona, is expected to be a major economic engine for the Flagstaff area.

“Twin Arrows will create a new benchmark in gaming entertainment while improving the economic health and prosperity of the Navajo Nation,” said Derrick Watchman, chief executive officer of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise. “As northern Arizona’s premier destination casino resort, Twin Arrows will create approximately 800 full-time jobs with an annual payroll of $34 million, including salaries and benefits.”

Az Business caught up with Watchmen before the 267,000-square-foot facility opened over Memorial Day weekend to get his thoughts about Northern Arizona’s hottest new spot.

Az Business: What has been your biggest challenge opening the casino?
Derrick Watchman: This project has been going on for five years, from ideas and concepts to financing and securing land, but there really hasn’t been any one big obstacle. We’re shorthanded on employees. Each employee has to be licensed. With three other casinos, there is a lot of turnover, as there is with all restaurants and in retail. We had challenges securing money. I was hired to secure financing, but about that time (2008 and 2009), the market crashed. But, we convinced the tribe that we were a really good investment. Other challenges? We hit rock-bottom — literally. At groundbreaking. It was limestone. There are only a few big rock [demolishing companies] in the country so we had to secure them. The rock you see around here, around the lobby and hotel, is part of the land.

AB: How does Twin Arrows reflect the Navajo Nation?
DW: When we started development, we identified a cultural committee. They worked with the architects and decided how to incorporate Navajo elements. The chandelier in the rotunda is actually representational of the four levels of worlds we believe in. Each hotel depicts the four worlds of the Navajo. We commissioned 33 different, very well-known Navajo artists. They put in their vision. You’ll see depictions of Navajo beliefs, creatures, animals, plant life and different directions. Our nation is known for mutton stew and fry bread, too, which is served in the casino food court.

AB: What can visitors expect?
DW: Our goal is to be a four-diamond resort. The amenities in the rooms are all geared to four-star ratings. When someone comes to Twin Arrows, we want them to say, “Wow.” We want to be a great food venue. We have the latest and greatest slot machines. Our poker room has 12 tables. We plan on having tournaments. We want folks to stay here, have meetings here, and have fun. I’ve heard the term “oasis in the desert.” We want to be that.

AB: Why did you pick that particular location for its first Arizona casino?
DW: We’re next to Flagstaff and the Indian Reservation – right where it stops. We’re also on Route 66, a historic route, and on the way out or into Flagstaff and Winslow. It’s an ideal location.