Nestled into the Santa Cruz Valley of Southern Arizona, the Ak-Chin Indian Community is 35 miles south of Phoenix in the northwestern part of Pinal County. The Community is steadfast in its efforts to preserve its culture, language, and traditions — not just for themselves, but also to impact neighboring communities and the world positively.
In 1988, when the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act — paving the way for the country’s Native American communities to operate casino-style gaming on tribal lands — the Ak-Chin Tribal Council looked at the many benefits that were possible as a result of Indian Gaming.
The opportunity for economic self-sufficiency and secure financial resources to invest in infrastructure and social services programs for tribal members were of utmost importance.
Recognizing the Community’s location and wanting the best opportunity for success, the Ak-Chin Tribal Council sought a management partner that would work alongside tribal leaders to build and grow a successful gaming enterprise.
“We chose to partner with Harrah’s, part of Caesars Entertainment,” says Ak-Chin Indian Community Chairman Robert Miguel. “Their long and successful history managing quality gaming and entertainment venues and their commitment to work alongside our tribal leaders and invest with us were deciding factors. Now, more than 25 years later, we continue to reap the benefits of this very successful partnership.”
Over the past 25 years, as the Casino has expanded to include 529 guestrooms, a variety of dining experiences, a spa, and fitness center, and an events center, one thing has remained the same — Harrah’s continues to invest in the community through a host of activities both on-property and within the tribal community as well.
One such program is Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino HERO Program. The goal of HERO is to strengthen organizations and programs in the communities where employees and their families live and work. The employee-based volunteer program enables Harrah’s staff and their families to make noteworthy and visible contributions to the community by donating their time, skills, expertise, and compassion to dozens of volunteer projects throughout the community. In addition, the HERO Committee funnels in-kind and monetary donations ($50,000 in 2020) into the community.
Despite the pandemic and decreased in-person volunteer opportunities, 90 percent of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino employees still volunteered more than 9,000 hours to such organizations as Sun Lakes Lions Foundation; Maricopa Lions Club; Casa Grande Roller Derby; Maricopa Police Foundation; American Cancer Society-Maricopa Relay for Life; HHHOHP Stand Down for Veterans; United Services Blood Drive; Area Agency on Aging; Pat Tillman Foundation; F.O.R. Maricopa Food Drive; Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; Maricopa Against Abuse; United Way of Pinal County; and Feed My Starving Children.
As the largest employer in Pinal County, Harrah’s Ak-Chin employs nearly 1,000 people, tribal and non-tribal. They also have the Harrah’s Development System (H.D.S.), a program for members of the Ak-Chin Indian Community to be integrated into key areas of the casino operation, with the goal of long-term employment opportunities.
The goal of H.D.S. is to encourage economic self-sufficiency by providing employment opportunities for tribal members. Here’s how the program works:
- Community members apply for the program, and a “class” begins the program, which lasts one to two years.
- Community members spend their time in the program working all aspects of the resort, from washing dishes to doing income control audits. They spend about a week in each position to give each H.D.S. associate a chance to find their best fit. They receive compensation throughout the program.
- Should they choose, they are guaranteed employment at the successful conclusion of the program.
To date, there have been more than 60 participants since the program began in 1997.
“Employment opportunities for tribal members are key to achieving financial independence,” said Chairman Miguel. “Participation in the H.D.S. program provides them tremendous opportunities to learn the gaming and hospitality business.”
The Ak-Chin Indian Community had deep roots in farming and agriculture.
Protecting and sustaining the land, air, and water is part of the fabric of the Community. Harrah’s takes that pledge enormously as well and regularly supports the company’s Code Green Program. Code Green’s sustainability programs are focused on reducing the property’s carbon footprint, energy and water consumption and recycling. They also support civic programs vital to the Maricopa community’s success, including organizations involved with education, children and families, adults, the environment, health care and the arts.
– Michael Kintner, Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino