It’s a long way from bingo halls to the Casino Arizona at Talking Stick.
The $440 million hotel-casino that opened Thursday on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community will combine Scottsdale resort amenities – fine dining, a spa and golf – with gaming and entertainment that is somewhere between Laughlin and Las Vegas.
Los Lobos headlined a private show on Wednesday night. Coming acts in the showroom include Brian Wilson, Clint Black and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
“We’re very excited to get in here,” said Russ Burbank, Casino Arizona chief operating officer.
Gamblers flooded into the casino on opening day as Salt River police directed traffic into the unfinished parking lots. Golf-cart shuttle drivers scurried to ferry gamblers through construction areas to the front door.
The casino, along with a few restaurants and lounges, are operating but Casino Arizona at Talking Stick is opening the hotel and other eateries over the next few weeks.
The casino’s poker room was full and seats were scarce at the slot machines. Players punched buttons on the ever-popular Monopoly slot machines, rolled dice on a virtual craps table and helped Carrie Bradshaw pick out a dress on a “Sex and the City” video slot machine.
“It’s beautiful in here – oh, my God!” one gambler said into his cellphone as he made his way across the slots floor.
Bartenders poured drinks at a main floor lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Talking Stick’s two golf courses and an unfinished pool deck.
One gambler, who played at the old Casino Arizona at Indian Bend Road and Loop 101, was less than thrilled with her first visit.
“It’s OK,” Katie Adams of Glendale said. “I’ve just got to get used to it. It’s really packed, and we couldn’t get a seat.”
Talking Stick’s 240,000-square-foot casino is twice as large as the one it replaces.
Players can choose from 800 slot machines and 100 tables for blackjack, poker and other card games.
Smoking is allowed in the casino but restricted in the poker room, in a small area of the slot machines and in the hotel.
Views hit the jackpot
Talking Stick Resort includes eight restaurants, 10 lounges and 497 rooms, including 15 suites on the top two floors. An all-day buffet is priced from $12.95 for breakfast to $23.95 for dinner.
The hotel’s “wow” factor will come from its spa on the 14th floor and the 230-seat Orange Sky restaurant on the 15th floor. Both have spacious balconies with stunning views of Camelback Mountain and the McDowell range.
Standard hotel rooms will go for $100 to $300 per night in season. A 2,000-square-foot presidential suite is $3,500, said Burbank, the Casino Arizona executive.
“We’re going for a four-diamond rating (from AAA), and it looks like we’re going to get it,” he said.
Ties to tribes’ heritage
The hotel features a contemporary interior design by Milt Elliott of FFKR Architects with a subtle color palette of gray, black and white.
It incorporates design motifs representing the basketry of the Pimas and the red and black pottery of the Maricopas, Elliott said.
The Salt River community incorporates two tribes, the Pima, or O’odham, and the Maricopa, or Piipash.
Tribal voters approved gaming in 1994, and Salt River opened its first casino four years later.
Talking Stick’s hotel lobby includes a gallery with a large collection of contemporary Native American art.
Business groups will utilize the resort’s 50,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 25,000-square-foot ballroom.
Talking Stick will host the American Hotel Lodging Association in June. Golfers will play the two 18-hole courses that are managed by Scottsdale-based Troon Golf.
And by next spring, Salt River will host the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies at a Cactus League complex about a mile from Talking Stick.
The resort is adding a new entertainment package for the destination, said Rachel Sacco, Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau president.
“We’re lucky it’s here on this side of town,” she said. “It will bolster the tourism market in Scottsdale.”