First look: Metro Phoenix’s newest casino, Santan Mountain, to open in June near this city

By Corina Vanek
Arizona Republic

Gila River Resorts & Casinos’ newest East Valley casino, Santan Mountain, opens June 30 and will feature the largest casino sportsbook in Arizona, 813 slot machines, table games and a new full-service specialty restaurant.

The $180 million casino took about 18 months to build and is the first new casino built after the updated tribal gaming compact allowed for legal sports betting and for some tribal casinos to expand their offerings or add casinos. The casino is located near Chandler at Gilbert Road and the future Santan Mountain Drive, south of Hunt Highway.

The updated compact also allowed for some new Las Vegas-style games, including craps and roulette, which were added to other Gila River properties and are included in the new one, Blake Katsnelson, general manager for the casino, said.

The new casino was designed with a nod to the culture of the Gila River Indian Community, with touches like associating colors with the cardinal directions in the building, incorporating work from local artists and featuring art pieces representing places on the tribe’s reservation, including seven paintings each depicting a scene from one of the tribe’s districts.

Katsnelson said the casino was designed as an entertainment experience, with more to do than just gambling.

“Traditional gaming is not the way,” he said. “It’s the extra amenities that we offer.”

The casino will hold a grand opening concert June 30, but the performer is not yet announced, Katsnelson said.

Some features of the new casino include:

  • A 7,000-square-foot BetMGM sportsbook, which features booth and individual seating. The sportsbook will rent booths so people can reserve a table to watch a game or event. The sportsbook also has a deli counter called Upper Deck Deli.
  • A new restaurant, called Honey and Vine, which will feature menu items that include ingredients grown on the Gila River Indian Community. The restaurant will emphasize its meats and chops, Katsnelson said, and has a private dining room.
  • A three-restaurant food court. The restaurants are called Rizzo’s, which has pizza and other Italian food, Taste Kitchen, which has American food and a Starbucks and Mein Dish, an Asian concept.
  • Three pits for table games including the high-limit table games. The roulette table in the high-limit area features a white roulette wheel, which Katsnelson said is unique in the United States, where roulette wheels are traditionally black.
  • The high-limit area will feature its own bar, called Premia, which will have an indoor/outdoor space that opens to a garden.
  • An event lawn and ballroom, which will take booked for all kinds of events including weddings. The lawn can have seating capacity and can hold weddings in front of an outdoor water feature. The ballroom will also be the performance space.
  • The main bar, called the Hive, will have 20 beers on tap, and surrounds an art installation with colored lights called the Tree of Life.

Unlike most casinos, this one has large-scale windows and natural light, and will not allow smoking inside, which is the policy for Gila River Resorts & Casinos, Katsnelson said. Smoking can only happen in designated outdoor areas.

The facility does not include a hotel, but may in the future.

The casino is holding job fairs to hire about 700 people to staff the facility, he said. The job most needed are cooks and chefs of all levels.

TynanGroup is the project manger 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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