Property Review: Gila River Resorts & Casinos – Santan Mountain in Chandler, AZ

Indian Gaming Magazine, Published August 8, 2023

For decades Las Vegas has been a gaming hub for people from around the globe. In Arizona, Gila River Resorts & Casinos has undergone a major transformation to create a similar Las Vegas-style gaming oasis in the Southwest. Through expansions, new builds and elevated amenities, Gila River’s evolution is taking the gaming experience to the next level.

To understand what drives this shift in perspective and innovation, one must understand how the gaming landscaped has changed in Arizona. In 2021, former Gov. Ducey signed into law the amended tribal-state gaming compacts expanding gaming in the state of Arizona. The new law legalized craps, roulette, baccarat and sports betting. With this amendment several years in the making, Gila River was diligently planning to elevate its gaming and hospitality experiences to align with the future of legalized gambling. Plans included a property expansion, elevation from hotel to resort designation, and a new casino.

In 2021, Gila River embarked on its expansion journey and broke ground at its Wild Horse Pass location. With the opportunity to renovate the property with limited guests on site during the pandemic, Gila River transformed the casino and hotel to a luxury destination. In February 2022, Wild Horse Pass unveiled its $180 million luxury expansion. The 18-month project included a new resort lobby, tower with 200 rooms including balcony suites, two pools, event center, BetMGM Sportsbook, the only Topgolf Swing Suite in the State of Arizona, and Prime, a Shula’s Steakhouse on the rooftop. The new Sunrise Tower is the heart of the expansion and Prime is the gem of the tower. Sitting on the 11th floor roof, guests enjoy breathtaking views of the Estrella Mountains, all while indulging in the modern steakhouse.

The second phase of furthering the vision of luxury was building a brand new casino, Santan Mountain. As the first new build in nearly a decade, the property is nothing less than a showstopper. Based in Chandler, the $180 million 20-month project was designed and built by Steelman Partners, Penta Building Group and Tynan Group, and brought more than 700 new jobs to the east valley of Phoenix.

Santan Mountain Gaming Floor
The 33,000 sq. ft. gaming floor includes 813 slot machines, 25 table games, roulette, mini baccarat, and the largest casino sportsbook in the state.

The stunning new property features floor to ceiling windows, 33,000 sq. ft. of gaming floor, 813 slot machines, 25 table games, the only white roulette wheel in the country, BetMGM Sportsbook (the largest casino sportsbook in the state), outdoor gardens, event space and new food concepts including Mein Dish, Upper Deck Deli and Honey & Vine. The sit down restaurant Honey & Vine features an outdoor patio, coffee bar, all day food service as well as a live music on the weekends.

To celebrate the momentous occasion, Gila River hosted a private opening for Gila River Community members in July that included traditional dancers, music, food tasting as well as the opportunity to try out the new gaming amenities before anyone else.

Santan Mountain Outdoor Seating
Casual outdoor seating areas have beautiful desert gardens, while inside, floor-to-ceiling windows provide views of the stunning San Tan Mountains.

Following the community opening, Gila River hosted a grand opening weekend with aerial drone shows and nightly concerts by country music star, Gabby Barrett. Gila River team members were met all weekend with crowds of smiling faces eager to experience the newest casino in the state.

“We are excited to break the mold with traditional casinos and bring a stunning new property to our loyal guests,” said Kenneth Manuel CEO of Gila River Resorts & Casinos. “With views of the San Tan Mountains, modern touches, and elevated amenities, there is not a gaming destination like this in the State of Arizona. The growth aligns perfectly with the enterprise’s mission of driving economic stability for the Gila River Indian Community and the State of Arizona.”

With the addition of the fourth property, revenue from the enterprise directly funds infrastructure, education and public safety for the Gila River Indian Community. Additional revenue from the enterprise is dispersed throughout the state for the Arizona Tribal State Gaming Compact to support local cities, towns and counties and will support more people than ever.

Santan Mountain Honey & Vine Restaurant
Honey + Vine restaurant features a walk-up coffee bar, diverse menus, and an outdoor patio.

With the anticipation of influx of new hires, Gila River developed a virtual reality program to train new team members. The program was designed to give each team member a 3-D view of the entire enterprise. Team members can experience the sights and sounds of the gaming floors, resorts and back of house through innovative technology. This one of a kind HR technology is new to Phoenix and the gaming industry and was produced by local production company, Point In Time Studios.

“With the privilege to hire and train 700 new team members, it was only natural to elevate the experience by upgrading our technology with a fun and unique program,” said Dominic Orozco, President and CMO of Gila River Resorts & Casinos. “The virtual reality program gave us the opportunity to teach Gila River’s mission, history and values through a memorable and innovative video game like experience that targets a younger demographic of team members.”

Santan Mountain Hive Bar
The eclectic bar Hive is conveniently situated in the middle of the gaming floor.

Creating a culture of family, unity and support typically isn’t the center of a human resources department, but Gila River is working to change that narrative. Building trust and transparency to create an environment where team members work for a better future of the company and community is a top priority. Gila River puts its employees first and prides itself not only on supporting the Gila River Indian Community, but the local community as well.

Gila River puts its people, guest service and giving back to the community at the forefront of everything. Uplifting the workforce and community to create a more diverse and equitable environment is what drives its human resources department. Hiring teams based on character and drive has made a difference in the quality of team members. Skills can be taught, but building a family of trustworthy, positive and hardworking people is priority.

Santan Mountain_Exterior
The 700 newly hired team members at Santan Mountain received state-of-the-art education with virtual reality training including a 3-D view of the entire enterprise.

At Gila River, the culture has shifted to create sustainable careers not disposable jobs. This longevity can be seen in every department and is a true testament of the culture and goals of human resources.

Whether you are seeking glitz and glamour or desire to be low-key in a high-stakes game, you can find exceptional amenities at Gila River Resort & Casinos. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Gila River has something for everyone. From fine dining, upscale resorts and state of the art sportsbooks, everyone can “Own Their Moment” at Gila River Resorts & Casinos.

TynanGroup is the Project Manager on the Santan Mountain Casino providing Project Management, Project Accounting, FFE/OSE Management and Systems Management for the Casino Expansion Owner’s Team. 

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