Arizona touts dozens of breathtaking resorts with countless amenities, but there’s still room for more. The Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler opened its doors in October 2009, and Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale opened this past April. What makes the opening of these two new resorts all the more remarkable is that they happened during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Of course no one plans to open a hotel in a tough economy, but who could have predicted this level of devastation a few years back? However, Harold Baugus, CEO of Gila River Gaming Enterprises, the driving force behind the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino, is not one to be easily deterred.
“We determined long ago that we needed a better, more sophisticated and more advanced product offering more entertainment value and better food and beverage for our clients,” he says. “In 2005, we started the process, and at that time the economy was on the upswing … but it doesn’t drive what we do. We wanted to build this product for the future of the community. The economy didn’t really play a factor.”
Steven Horowitz, director of sales for Talking Stick Resort, says the venture has proved successful so far, even in this economy.
“Hospitality demand was at its lowest during the majority of our building phase,” he says. “We were due to open when the economy would hopefully begin the cyclical upswing. That has been the case.”
Developed by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Talking Stick encompasses a 240,000-square-foot casino in a 15-story tower that houses almost 500 rooms.
Despite early encouraging signs, Horowitz does think people are continuing to be very careful about how they spend their money.
“While we feel like Talking Stick Resort is opening as the economy is beginning to rebound, some of the initial challenges during recovery would be the lack of demand for resorts, and the overall economic downturn in gaming,” he says. “For obvious reasons, people have been very careful about their discretionary income, and entertainment, until recently, hasn’t been top priority.”
Baugus says his property is competing for all discretionary dollars, not just those targeted to other hotel properties.
“We have created an overall entertainment experience for those with complete discretionary income,” he says. “We are not necessarily concerned with other facilities or casinos, but rather if people are going to take those dollars to a ballpark or the movies.”
These properties offer guests a laundry list of entertainment and luxury options. Besides gaming and lounges, Talking Stick has its signature restaurant Orange Sky, multiple pools, and entertainment venues.
“We are truly an all-encompassing entertainment destination. A guest literally does not have to leave the property,” Horowitz says.
Baugus also is proud of the options and amenities available at Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino. The 10-story property has 242 hotel rooms with a 100,000-square-foot casino. It also boasts a range of dining options, including the area’s only Shula’s Steak House; a 1,400-seat entertainment venue; the AiRIA nightclub; and pool parties.
“We’ve tried to offer something for every demographic,” he adds.
The two resorts also offer plenty of meeting space for corporate or organizational gatherings. Talking Stick has 100,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting and banquet space; Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino has about 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
Along with providing world-class amenities and entertainment, the actual construction of these facilities has given the local economy a much needed boost. The opening of Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino added about 500 jobs. During construction, 1,000 workers a day were employed to complete the facility. Talking Stick Resort added 600 jobs to the economy when it opened, and employed hundreds of additional workers during its construction phases, as well.
Both Baugus and Horowitz are pleased with the resorts’ initial numbers and neither is letting the summer heat slow down that momentum. Talking Stick Resort offers regular gaming promotions and a concert series. Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino has kicked off a comedy series for the summer, pool parties and golf specials.
The Valley’s resorts are often ideal places for staycations during the summer, and both properties appear to be generating interest from the locals.
“There are so many facets of Talking Stick Resort that you just can’t see or get anywhere else, and that naturally sparks interest from folks both locally and those who are out of town,” Horowitz says.
Baugus adds: “We have had a tremendously positive response and have already seen repeat business. People were pleasantly surprised with the opening. They were not expecting this level of quality.”
If You Go:
Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino
5040 Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler
Talking Stick Resort
9800 E. Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale