By Kellie Hwang the Arizona Republic
Take a drive down Komatke Lane in Laveen and you first will see the Vee Quiva Casino, a modest place with the basics: slot machines, some gaming tables, a bingo hall, cafe and deli.
A little farther south is the new Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino, a massive, Vegas-inspired complex that adds a whopping dose of flash to a community where some neighborhoods are still dotted with farmland.
The new complex will help Vee Quiva compete with other Arizona casinos, which aim to cater to gamblers’ changing tastes, casino officials say.
The $135 million casino, which opens Tuesday, features more gaming options and will offer a robust menu of entertainment, making gambling a second choice for some visitors.
There’s a sleek, one-of-a-kind steakhouse, a 90-room boutique hotel with suites equipped with 60-inch flat-screen televisions and a large, convertible entertainment venue with an all-star lineup already in the works.
When the new Vee Quiva opens, the old one will be demolished, and the land will revert to the Gila River Community.
The old Vee Quiva, which opened in 1994, underwent an $8 million expansion of 11,000 square feet in 2006, adding a bingo hall, bar and restaurant.
But another refresh and expansion just wasn’t enough, said John James, CEO for Gila River Casinos.
“The old Vee Quiva had no entertainment options whatsoever,” James said.
Visitors who come to the casino will see a beautiful space, live bands, nationally known music artists and comedy acts, he added.
“This is going to be an electrifying experience for anyone who is coming to this property,” James said.
A major upgrade was necessary to stay competitive, said Melody Hudson, public-relations manager for Gila River Casinos.
“There wasn’t really room to expand at the old casino,” she said. “Gaming in Arizona had begun to evolve, and guests requested the need to have additional amenities. … We knew we had to add all-encompassing entertainment to stay current with the trends in gaming.”
The new casino brings a host of entertainment options to Laveen, which has been inhabited by farmers and dairymen since the 1870s.
While housing and commercial developments are slowly urbanizing the area, many parts still remain untouched agricultural plots, with South Mountain off to the southeast, offering a sprawling, rural feel.
The new property blends tranquil, natural touches inspired by the Gila River community with vibrant, geometrical decor and bright hues.
Huge LED light panels hang from the ceiling and change not only colors but also themes. Each area in the complex, including the 70,000-square-foot casino, is meant to feel open and airy, so patrons can see across the rooms and feel all of the action.
The main gambng floor has 950 slot machines, 36 table games, a poker room and large bingo hall. Paintings by Gila River Community artists hang from the walls, and the bingo hall will have ever-changing photos of state parks from around the country.
The poker room has 16 custom tables with pull-out drink holders. The finals table in the back is surrounded by a fence so patrons can watch tournaments. In the middle of the gaming floor is the Square Bar, set up on a platform that literally places patrons at the center of the action.
Vee Quiva offers a unique, sports-themed dining destination: Ditka’s Restaurant. The restaurant is owned by legendary former football coach and player Mike Ditka and currently has only two locations, one in Illinois and one in Pittsburgh.
“Ditka’s is very excited to be a part of the new Vee Quiva Hotel & Casino,” Ditka said in an e-mail. Vee Quiva “offers a unique high-energy setting,” he added.
The restaurant is spacious and stylish, with black-and-white sports photos and a private dining space for as many as 24 people. The private room has a long dining table and Molteni stovetop and oven where guests can watch chefs prepare food from personalized menus.
Other restaurants include Coffee Shop 24/7, Panda Express, Dunkin’ Donuts, Fatburger and the Phoenix-based Los Reyes de la Torta.
The 6,000-square-foot Vee Quiva Event Center is a destination for nationally touring entertainers and well-known Valley acts. The old Vee Quiva didn’t have a concert or entertainment venue.
“The event center is a multipurpose room, with concerts that can seat 500 people,” said Jason Robinson, entertainment manager for Gila River Casinos. “We plan to host everything from stand-up comedy performances to tribute acts to big headlining acts.”
The lineup already includes 1970s psychedelic rock group Jefferson Starship, popular comedian Carlos Mencia and rocker Vince Neil.
The wall behind the stage can be opened to face a lawn area for future al fresco concerts. Hudson said this is the only Arizona casino with such a feature.
“We are excited to have this big lawn performance area for outdoor happenings that will create a festival setting in the cooler months,” Robinson said.
VQ Live is a laid-back lounge with a long stone bar. It faces out to the main entrance to overlook a large water feature known as the Wonder Wall. Water flows out of the curved quartzite structure’s cut-outs, and the feature bears the casino’s name. Local acts will perform regularly on the lounge’s small stage, providing entertainment during happy hour and weekend nights.
“The beauty of live music, as opposed to a DJ, is we can actually serve many different demographics,” Robinson said. “We might have a country band and then throw in a classic-rock group. We hope a lot of these bands bring in their fans to discover Vee Quiva.”
*TynanGroup, in conjunction with Parsons, was the Project Manager on the Vee Quiva Hotel and Casino.
*This new Hotel and Casino is the seventh major project that TynanGroup has managed for the Gila River Indian Community during our 14 year relationship.