Northern Edge Navajo Casino debuts Monday

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

UPPER FRUITLAND, N.M., Jan. 12, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Workers are putting the finishing touches on the new Northern Edge Casino on Tuesday in Upper Fruitland, N.M.

BOTTOM:The Sun God will greet casino patrons at the front entrance of the new Northern Edge Casino in Upper Fruitland, N.M.

W oshdee and "Yá'át'ééh" are the hospitality words that will greet patrons at the new Northern Edge Navajo Casino.

Driving west on Navajo Route 36, the casino's two towers appear in the sky before revealing blue and brown painted exterior walls.

From the main parking lot, a patron is treated to a view of the San Juan River Valley and beyond that, to the north, the sacred mountain of the North, Dibé Nitsaa.

Northern Edge, the latest venture by the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, is 85,000 square feet and houses 750 slot machines, eight poker tables, 10 table games, a full service restaurant, food court, gift shop and players club.

The public opening is set for Monday, Jan. 16, at noon, but its debut before an invitation-only VIP audience is Sunday, Jan. 15.

The hours of operation will be Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 a.m., and round the clock on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays.

Stepping into Northern Edge a person can forget that she's on the Navajo Nation.

That's just the effect the gaming enterprise is going for.

"You go around and check it out and go, 'Oh, I forgot we are on the rez,'" said Ray Etcitty, NNGE general counsel. "It provides that little bit of entertainment."

"That's what it is about, it's about entertainment," said Rhonda Ray, marketing manager for Fire Rock Navajo Casino.

Ray, along with other Fire Rock staff and gaming enterprise members, provided guidance to the designers, the Friedmutter Group of Las Vegas, Nev., on how to showcase Navajo culture in the building's exterior and interior.

The towers represent the Twin Warriors.

The south tower is adorned with a crooked line to represent hat tslin it lish ka' - the lightning that strikes crooked - and the north tower has a straight line to portray hat tsol lithe ka' - the lightning that flashes straight.

The entryway canopy shades the main driveway and features large ceiling murals of cornstalks in red, yellow, blue and white to represent the agricultural traditions of the area.

In accordance with Navajo culture, the main entrance faces east.

Inside the rotunda, the floor is covered with a large design of the Sun God, based on a modified version of a corn beetle, and the ceiling has Navajo constellations.

Navajo art is also on display in the rotunda, including three 8-foot Navajo rugs from the 1900s, a silver concho belt from the 1800s, two Navajo baskets from the 1920s and a Navajo wedding vase from the 1960s.

To the left is a large window that allows visitors a view into the gift shop.

The casino floor houses rows and rows of slot machines, some with male or female hogans on top.

Among the slot games offered are "Monopoly," "The Wizard of Oz," "African Diamond," "Lord of the Rings" and "Godzilla."

Bob Winter, CEO of the gaming enterprise, said the ceiling of the casino floor is designed to represent a weaver's loom.

At the center of the ceiling is a large Two Grey Hills pattern with two smaller similar patterns on each side.

On the north and south side of the ceiling are light fixtures that depict the colors of the four sacred mountains.

The Cedar Bow Restaurant is situated in the northwest corner.

Since Upper Fruitland has a rich history of farming, the main décor colors for the Cedar Bow was green and gold, said Ray.

On some of the restaurant walls are large Navajo baskets that were made by the Black family of Mexican Hat, Utah, whose work has been featured at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock.

The food court is done in tones of red, brown, orange and white to reflect the portion of the creation story where turkey got his tail feathers wet at the tip and turned white, Ray said.

Like Fire Rock's food court, this eatery will serve lamb stew and offers large flat-screen televisions for patrons to enjoy while they eat.

The table games and poker room is situated along the south side of the building.

With the roulette wheel made in Europe to accompany a state-of-the-art table, players will experience more interaction with the game, Etcitty said.

"It's the best of the best," he said.

Between now and the grand opening, last minute preparation and employee training continues.

"Northern Edge is expected to create approximately 374 full-time jobs with an annual payroll of $12 million, including salaries and benefits," Winter said.

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