Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino is celebrating both its 25th anniversary and the grand opening of its 2,000-seat Events Center on Thursday.
The new Events Center has hosted two concerts already and will accommodate comedian Dave Chappelle for two shows this weekend. The room is part of a $100 million expansion, most of which is now complete. The casino opened in 1994 at a much smaller scale.
The new construction work has included a spa, new restaurants, a new 229-room hotel tower, an expanded gaming floor, a fitness center, a parking garage and a connecting bridge to UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. Still being completed is a remodel of the swimming pool.
Native American firm Thalden Boyd Emery is the architect of the expansion. Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino is owned by the Ak-Chin Indian Community and managed by Caesar’s Entertainment.
Michael Kintner, director of marketing and operations, said the Events Center will have risers for the seating at the back of the main room when the full space and stage are used. But the center is also to be used for conferences.
“There are six different way to break out for meetings,” he said.
As in the new restaurants, Oak & Fork and Chop Block & Brew, décor and artwork in the center and the rest of the expansion was inspired by the Ak-Chin or other Native American cultures. The works of Ak-Chin artists are included.
For example, the colorful ceiling in the main entry to the casino incorporates design elements from classic patterns in Ak-Chin weavings. To emphasize that point, the lobby has basket weavings by Sally Antone and Janice Miguel Perez on display.
The new hotel tower brings the total number of hotel rooms to 529. Kintner said Harrah’s Ak-Chin would still welcome an additional hotel or motel in Maricopa like the La Quinta that is proposed for Copper Sky. Casinos tend to overbook rooms because no-shows are common. When the hotel is sold out, it is difficult to tell their guests they will have to go to Chandler or Casa Grande for the night.
“That would give us a place to walk people to when we’re sold out,” he said of the proposed hotel.
Deciding on the number of rooms for the new tower came down to balancing demand with the business’s willingness to spend. The new rooms have a slightly larger floor plan and a blue-and-gray color scheme. The 300 rooms in the original tower have a brown-and-gold color scheme.
Since opening the new tower, Harrah’s Ak-Chin has been busy.
“So far, we’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Kintner said. “Our numbers are a little on the higher end of what we expected.”
The Spa and the fitness center give the establishment an opportunity to reach a different kind of clientele. The Spa has four rooms, including a couple’s room, a dedicated esthetics room and two utility rooms. All rooms come equipped with a sink, towel caddies and candles. There is light therapy, manicure/pedicure room, a salon for hair treatment and makeup, changing rooms, a shower and lockers.
“A gym is something we’ve been lacking since I’ve been here, which is going on 14 years,” Kintner said.
When the hotel was just 150 rooms, two of the rooms were combined into a workout area but were taken back as demand for rooms increased. A fitness room was again prioritized during expansion plans as a need for guests at the hotel for business conferences. The fully equipped fitness room offers a high-rise view of the Sonoran environment.
The casino’s eateries are now comprised of Chop Block & Brew, Oak & Fork, Agave’s Restaurant, Copper Cactus Grill, The Buffet (which has expanded into the space formerly occupied by a steakhouse) and Dunkin Donuts (which has moved to a different location off the casino floor).
The upgraded Oak & Fork opened in December 2017 as a small-plate wine bar pairing fine wine with steak, chicken, lobster, lamb and other selections. Chop Block & Brew, also upgraded, opened in August 2018, serving lunch and dinner, with steaks, burgers, prime rib and seafood along with a full bar with craft beers. Lately, CBB has also been serving breakfast starting at 7 a.m. to temporarily fill in the gap left by Agave’s, which was impacted by construction.
The gaming floor gained around 35,000 extra square feet of space, and the gift shop has also gained more room. The Lounge continues as a smaller entertainment area.
As far as gaming, the casino now has much bigger poker room in a dedicated location to hold World Series of Poker events. “Before, we played ‘hide the poker room’ for the past seven years,” Kintner said. And the Bingo hall, which was an outbuilding in the parking lot, is now in a spacious, second-floor room. It is the only Bingo hall in the Caesar’s organization.
The Total Rewards program has changed to the Caesar’s Rewards program. It is essentially just a name change to “leverage the power of the brand,” Kintner said.
When it is completed, the new swimming pool will be zero-entry (also called beach entry) on the west side. It will have a newer and bigger swim-up pool bar, a larger deck, three spas, a pool shower, upgraded audio and lighting, remodeled restrooms and 12 private cabanas with misting fans, TVs, safe, fridge and furniture.
Poolside rooms will have gated, extended patios that lead directly from the room to the pool.