ARLINGTON — The World’s Friendliest Casino looks like the World’s Busiest Casino at the moment.
Crews are scrambling this week to put the finishing touches on a $27 million, five-story hotel addition to Angel of the Winds casino, making beds, plugging in Keurig coffeemakers and fixing blemishes spotted with blue tape.
Tribal elders will be the first to stay at the hotel Monday, other tribal members on Tuesday and then VIPs and other invited guests on Wednesday.
“We get that one chance to make a first impression,” said Travis O’Neil, the casino’s general manager. “We want to be ready.”
The hotel opens to paying guests on New Year’s Eve, mainly loyal Angel of the Winds customers, but a few rooms may open to the general public. It’ll be up and running fully Jan. 2, O’Neil said.
Stillaguamish Tribe chairman Shawn Yanity has only visited the hotel once during construction, joking that he wanted to stay out of everyone’s way. He likes what he’s seen from the style and design to the attention of detail by developer DreamCatcher Hotels of Memphis, Tennessee.
“It’s a big commitment, but it was also a necessity to keep up with the growth and demand of the market as well as what the customers are asking for,” Yanity said.
Currently, Angel of the Winds at 3438 Stoluckquamish Lane draws upon a customer base mainly from Snohomish and Skagit counties. With the new hotel rooms, the casino is hoping to push that out to about 65 miles to tap into the Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., markets, O’Neil said.
“The Canadian traffic is something we’re going to go after,” O’Neil said. “Right now, they’re just driving right by us.”
He also added that the Angel of the Winds casino is the last casino along the I-5 corridor to add a hotel.
“This is a growth pattern,” O’Neil said. “The more amenities you add to a casino, the more successful you’ll be.”
The new hotel features 125 rooms and six suites that can connect with adjoining rooms. Room prices vary depending on the day, but run from run from $114-$189 for a deluxe room to $209-$279 for a suite. Each room features RainDance shower heads and comes with a 42-inch television. Lights mounted over the headboards of the bed and entertainment center give off a soft glow.
The hummingbird — a traditional native design made by a tribal member that’s used as a logo for the casino — is re-created in black metal with red lights above the front desk. Panels of enlaid cedar rounds will be mounted on some of the walls. The casino also commissioned photographer Steven Kennedy of Bellingham to take local pictures for artwork in rooms and common areas.
“It’s everything from Camano Island to Granite Falls,” said Eric Larsen, director of marketing and housing services, of the photography.
The new hotel offers a meeting room on the ground floor that holds 12 to 16 people. O’Neil said he imagines that it could be used for smaller get-togethers or mid-week business meetings.
The tribe got into the gaming business later than most tribes, opening the casino just 10 years ago in October 2004. The tribe didn’t have enough land for a casino until the tribal council made the difficult choice to clear out a housing development in the early 2000s where the casino, hotel, gas station and smoke shop now sit.
“It was a tough decision to make because it meant uprooting a number of families,” Yanity said.
The casino has helped the small tribe become a force in the local economy. In the mid-1990s, the tribe employed around 30 workers. Now the tribal administration employs 250 and the casino, gas station and smoke shop employ another 500, Yanity said. The casino added another 50 employees to staff the hotel.
“We were creating jobs at a time when jobs were scarce to get,” Yanity said. “We’ve been proud to provide jobs to a lot of local families with good wages and benefits.”
O’Neil, who has been the general manager for eight years, said it’s been a trying time to run a casino at the same time that a major construction project has been under way next door. The tribe over the last year also widened 35th Avenue NE outside the casino from two to three lanes.
The southbound I-5 bridge over the Stillaguamish River was under construction this year, too, causing the exit to the casino to be closed at times.
“It’s been a headache not only for our customers, but also our workers,” O’Neil said. “Just let everyone know that we should be done with that after this past year and a half of headaches.”