New CEO of Navajo Gaming Enterprise announced

WINDOW ROCK-Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr. on April 16 announced his appointment of Robert Winter as the interim CEO for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise Board of Directors. Winter is from Atlantic Highlands, N.J. His appointment is contingent upon confirmation by the Navajo Nation Council's Economic Development Committee.

Shirley's announcement came during his spring State of the Navajo Nation address, which was devoted primarily on the Nation's gaming issues. Shirley said the Nation has made progress with plans to develop its first casino at the Church Rock industrial site near Gallup, N.M.

"We have prioritized this location because of land availability, and because the market study provided by GVA Marquette Advisors shows that the Gallup area is an excellent location to maximize our revenue-generating potential," he said.

Plans call for a temporary structure to include a 27,000-square-foot building that will provide Class II and Class III gaming, 350 slot machines and various table games, entertainment, and a small café.

He said, "This...will help build a foundation of real economic development and self-sufficiency, and will help lead us from a condition of dependency on outside entities to one of independence and true sovereignty. Our long-term plans involve the development of a permanent casino, resort, and ancillary projects."

Shirley added that the Navajo Nation has negotiated a transfer agreement of 275 gaming devices with the Gila River Indian Community for one year that will generate $1.5 million for the Navajo Nation. The Nation is still interested in developing a casino along I-40 near the Pinta Road exit at Nahata Dziil Chapter where the first Navajo casino was planned.

Before anything could happen, however, the Nation learned it did not own the sub-surface rights in the area. Shirley explained that the federal Bureau of Land Management cannot grant a "friendly condemation" of the rights and recommended the Navajo Nation seek congressional action to resolve the problem.

"Protection of our interests under state law is limited, and I believe that we must have unfettered use of the site if we are to invest millions in a gaming facility there," he said.

If the north side of Pinta Road exit does not have a dual estates problem, he said, a permanent casino could be developed there once the Nahata Dziil Chapter approves the site for gaming and withdraws the necessary land, he added.

Shirley said Winter has more than 30 years experience in the gaming industry and extensive experience in Indian gaming development. He is the former partner and counsel to the law firm of Brown, Previti and Carroll of Atlantic City, N.J., and is the former vice president and general counsel for the Foxwoods Resort Casino, one of the most successful casinos in the country. It is owned by the Masshantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut.

Winter will be responsible for the overall day-to-day direction, construction, and management of the Navajo Nation's first gaming facility, including pre-opening planning, and necessary operating and capital budgets, developing and implementing the operating policies and procedures to recruit, hire, and train all gaming facility employees.

President Shirley also said the Navajo Nation is considering the development of a Navajo Nation Bank. He said discussions are underway with the Native American Bank about the possibilities and that he would report more to the Navajo Nation Council at its summer session.

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