Bernadine Burnette, President, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation

Bernadine Burnette, President
Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation

We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort in Fort McDowell, AZ

CHALLENGES/OPPORTUNITIES: We have had to navigate the impacts of the pandemic for the past 18 months, and unfortunately, it is not over yet. Our first priority has been to ensure the health and safety of our tribal members, guests and employees. We have closely adhered to guidance from the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation’s COVID-19 Incident Management Team, Arizona Department of Health Services the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

In response to the outbreak, the tribe’s gaming enterprise was forced to close its doors for the first time in history. One of the main challenges upon reopening is the maintaining and hiring of essential staff to re-establish ourselves as a full operation. This is particularly true for food and beverage employees.

Even as we’ve been managing the impacts of the pandemic, we completed a six-year compact negotiation with the state. The new compact became effective earlier this summer, and we can now offer new table games like roulette, craps, and baccarat. The big gaming news in Arizona in recent months is the legalization of sports wagering in the state. The We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort is excited to bring an all new experience to customers. The opening of the sportsbook will take the enterprise to another level of gaming excitement.

KEY TO SUCCESS: In the midst of the economic and social circumstances, we were able to rebrand from the well-known Fort McDowell Casino and We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center to the all-new We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort, combining two enterprises as one, which opened its doors last fall. The public’s interest in and excitement about the new facility has certainly helped us weather the downturn caused by the pandemic. We also had to be extremely agile and flexible in adapting to market dynamics caused by the pandemic. Our new casino, for example, is a non-smoking facility. We considered taking this step in recent years, and it became even more important to do so in response to the pandemic. An emphasis on customer service, while always important, has become even more so in the past 18 months.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT: As of now, we are not currently engaged in any new major economic development projects beyond implementing new table games and a sportsbook within the casino. At this point, we remain focused on continuing to manage the impacts of the pandemic on our enterprises and community. There will be time to consider new economic initiatives once the uncertainty created by the pandemic is at an end. Let’s all hope that day comes soon.