Navajos ready for first-ever casino

Apr 15, 2008 7:00 PM

Native Niche by By GT Staff | The Navajo Nation of New Mexico is poised to build its first tribal casino, according to a report in the Gallup Independent newspaper.

Navajo Nation Economic Development Committee member Ralph Bennett said it was 10 years ago that the Committee approached the Navajo people in public hearings to ask if they wanted gaming on the Navajo Nation.

"We were afraid to appear before the people. They were very harsh. We were very afraid to go to them, but we did nevertheless," he said. "Finally within 10 years it started changing."

Now the nation is one step closer to opening its first casino with the signing of the loan documents and lease agreement last week by President Joe Shirley and Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise CEO Robert Winter during a signing ceremony attended by more than 100 community members and dignitaries.

Shirley thanked Winter for coming out of retirement to help lead the nationís gaming efforts.

"He put up with us, put up with our politics," Shirley said. "He put up with all of that to bring us here."

The construction of the new casino in Churchrock could begin as early as a month with the expected opening date set for October, gaming counsel Ray Etcitty said.

Controller Mark Grant said that the casino will mean employment and revenue for the Navajo Nation. He noted that four to five more casinos will eventually be built on tribal lands.

"This is the first step, and it was the hardest step," he said. "But from now on, thank you to this chapter, the next one is going to be easier and the third step will be easier after that."

After the Navajo Nationís first attempt to secure a bank loan agreement didnít go through, the nation went to its own Land Acquisition Fund for the loan. With the signing of the loan, the gaming enterprise can move forward with construction plans.

The Killian Group from Missouri has been chosen as the general contractor and JCJ Architecture from Phoenix has been chosen as the architect, gaming enterprise officials said.