New casino breaks the ‘dungeony’ look

Gila River Resorts and Casinos’ newest location, Santan Mountain Casino, has a new look and fresh vibe. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Most casinos are designed in a similar fashion: There are no windows, it’s dark, you won’t see a clock anywhere.

It’s a design that Arizona casinos copied from Las Vegas and Atlantic City, all designed to keep folks in their seats gambling.

The new Santan Mountain Casino opening next month near South Chandler is breaking the mold. The fourth Gila River Indian Community casino is scheduled to hold its grand opening on June 30.

“We’re really trying to forward-think on what we feel like the environment that the guest will enjoy,” said Blake Katsnelson, the general manager of the new casino at the corner of Gilbert Road and Hunt Highway.

“There’s a dark style that the older casinos have, almost dungeony. We try to pull that out and give it a bright, vibrant, airy feeling.”

Katsnelson gave a tour of the new casino to media and other guests on May 17. It was the first look for the public.

Visitors will be able to see windows from many areas of the casino. Katsnelson said it’s a first for Arizona and a new concept nationally.

He said the owner decided to go this route out of a belief that casino clientele will change over the years.

“We all know that the traditional gambler is probably now a 50-plus female,” he said. “We’re trying to plan ahead and think about the new generations that are coming.

“What we found is that the newer generations that are coming, the Millennials, Gen Z’s and even the ones after that – they don’t like that feeling. They like to be open, they like to be new and exciting.”

Santan Mountain Casino has many of the additional features found in other gambling venues around the state, including its own restaurant (Honey & Vine), a sports book and a high-limit betting area. It also has two outdoor gardens for anyone looking to get away from the casino for a moment or two.

There is also a large banquet and/or conference room, which Katsnelson said is the only space like it available for rent for miles around.

The functional indoor space is about 6,000 square feet. It’s also attached to one of the garden areas. Total space is 14,000 square feet.

Katsnelson said the property was designed with weddings in mind, saying there is really no place else to go in the South Chandler area where a couple could hold a large wedding.

In that vision, the couple could get married on the patio, then have the reception in the banquet room. The banquet room can be divided by two walls into three distinctive spaces for smaller events.

The City of Chandler is installing a traffic light at the corner of Gilbert and Hunt Highway to help ease flow caused by the new casino. However, city officials say they don’t expect the casino to have too big an impact on area traffic.

“The expectation though, as far as the traffic studies that I’ve seen, is it’s not going to overwhelm the system down there,” said Jason Crampton, the city’s senior transportation planner. “It’s going to add a few thousand trips, probably, but it’s not going to crush the load of arterial streets down there.”

Katsnelson suggested visitors avoid Gilbert Road and get there by traveling on Hunt Highway instead. Crampton said the city will be monitoring the uptick in traffic.

There may be a soft opening of the casino before the official grand opening at the end of June.

Katsnelson said that depends on when the city completes putting up the light. He said the owners don’t want to open if visitors will have to navigate a four-way stop sign at that intersection.

The sports book is the largest in the state at 7,000 square feet, Katsnelson said. The casino has 810 slot machines, 15 blackjack tables, two craps tables and three roulette tables.

In keeping with its bright theme, Katsnelson said they have the only white roulette wheel in the United States.

In addition to the restaurant, there is also a small food court with three options, pizza and Italian, American and Asian foods.

The casino will employ about 700 people and has a total of 150,000 square feet on the 160-acre property.

Katsnelson said one of the main objectives of Santan Mountain is to give residents who live near by a much-needed entertainment option.

“Our main focus is the houses and the rooftops that are here, giving them something to do,” he said. “Within a 15-mile radius, there’s not anything really out there except for downtown Gilbert. There’s really nothing from an entertainment standpoint. So that was our goal when we chose this location.”

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