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In Tiny Ignacio, Colorado the State-of-the-art 146 room
 Sky Ute Casino Resort and Conference Center Opens

By Debra Mayeux, The Daily Times, Farmington, N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 18, 2008 - --IGNACIO, Colo. -- The Southern Ute Tribe moves into the tourism industry with its state-of-the-art Sky Ute Casino Resort and Conference Center opening to the public at 7 p.m. today in Ignacio, Colo.

The 146-room hotel includes a business center, full-service spa and swimming pool. The casino has 540 slot machines, 12 table games, a 180-seat bingo hall, 24-lane AMF bowling center, an 18-hole mini golf course and 24-site RV park.

While the casino will serve its local guests from throughout the Four Corners, Ben Fernandez, director of marketing, said the tribe hopes to promote and increase tourism by 35 percent in the area.

"There's a lot of people that live in the area that can't afford to take a family trip this year, but they can afford to come here," said Matt Olin, the property's general manager and chief operating officer.

Olin began researching the feasibility of a new casino resort in December of 2005. The old Sky Ute Casino, which closed at 3 p.m. Tuesday, was overcrowded and outdated.

"The facility we were operating in did fine and served its purpose for 15 years," Olin said. It, however, was not designed as a casino, but as a hotel and restaurant. "We were out of room and couldn't add anymore slots or tables."

Olin did his own research and convinced tribal leaders to hire the Marquette Advisors to do a professional study. "It was my position that study would show what size and scope to build for this market," he said.

The results of the

study showed that the new facility complete with its amenities will attract tourists and customers to the area for the next 30 years. It is being touted as a premier resort facility that will offer "extraordinary customer service" to the gambling enthusiast, families and business travelers.

A destination resort

"We're a destination resort, but we're also a family destination resort," Olin said. "People come here to socialize, eat, bowl and have fun. We want to be a place where families can gather."

The Aspen Room features a children's buffet where children can serve themselves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Any part of the resort can be reached through an outside entrance, so families will not need to bring children through the gaming area. A huge photo of Ute warriors on horseback gazes on swimmers as they float through the lazy river and play in the pool. And the bowling center will have youth leagues and late-night bowling.

"We want to provide the retail, food, family events, and entertainment," Olin said. "The only reason people need to leave is to go take in the sights and activities that we're famous for in this area."

For the business traveler, the resort has voice-over ip phones and features Wi-Fi. "You can sit anywhere in this facility with your computer," Olin said.

There is a conference center with an 18,000-square-foot ballroom that seats up to 1,000 people. It also will play host to concerts and live boxing.

Live weekend entertainment will be available in the casino lounge, which also has the newest in slot machine technology, according to Fernandez.

Various opportunities

The casino and resort will employ up to 450 tribal members and regional employees, all of whom completed training and were certified in customer service. It also houses two new businesses opened by tribal members. Lisa Burch will own and operate the spa, and Richard Hudson will own a pro-bowling shop.

Southern Ute opportunity and culture were considered in every aspect of the new facility. "The decor was accepted by casino tribal employees and elders," Fernandez said.

The decorations are evident yet well-blended. "Everything has been considered. Culture was important so that membership feels this is their facility," Olin added.

Those touches can be found in photographs and paintings on the walls, light fixtures, Pendleton blankets on the bed and even the place settings in the resort's five restaurants.

A grand opening celebration including a Clint Black concert will be the weekend of Nov. 28. Other dates of interest are Dec. 5, when there will be a Commodores concert, and New Year's Eve when the Los Lonely Boys will perform.

Rooms are booking fast through year's end, according to Fernandez, who said the rates are competitive with similar facilities in the area.

"We've done our research. We want to do it right and be a good community member," he said.

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To see more of The Daily Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.daily-times.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Daily Times, Farmington, N.M.

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