By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort, formerly known as Fort McDowell Casino, has reopened in its state-of-the-art facility with 850 slot machines, 22 gaming tables and live bingo on October 29.

The casino’s interior is 100% smoke free, as is the hotel. However, there are four “very comfortable” outdoor designated smoking areas.

“We’re very excited,” says Mary Ketterling, general manager for We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort. “The project has been in construction for more than two years.

“The casino is entirely new. We’re leaving Fort McDowell behind. All of our food and beverage areas are new. One of the highlights is Ember restaurant, an upscale fine dining restaurant. High-quality steaks and an open mesquite wood-fired grill are part of our Ember experience.”

The sports and entertainment spot, WKP, is the showpiece of the casino, Ketterling says. The sports bar-themed restaurant offers creative pub fare and craft beer, along with gaming activities. Entertainment such as tribute bands, dueling pianos, comedy nights and top bands and dancing will be found there, too.

“WKP is a play on the We-Ko-Pa brand,” she says. “It’s a fun place. It’s a sports bar environment with creative pub fare and craft beer, and in the evening, we’ll have live entertainment. We’ll have blackjack there.

“We’re real excited about this. We’re even going to have a proprietary beer, Hamala, which means ‘foam water’ in Yavapai.”

Ketterling says the casino and resort are “absolutely beautiful” and a complete change from Fort McDowell Casino. Native American designs reflect earth, water, desert flowers and tortoise shells, not only in the atrium but throughout the facility.

“It’s modern,” says Ketterling, who has worked for the Yavapai Nation, which runs We-Ko-Pa, for four years. “It has cool native touches and native themes and modern features. It’s really rewarding to be a part of something that’s bigger than just the business. It’s contributing to a way of life.”

The hotel has 246 guest rooms and is connected to the casino, something that wasn’t the case with Fort McDowell.

“We really look forward to rebranding the casino with the same We-Ko-Pa and the physical connections,” she says. “For folks in the resort who want to try the food venues, we are now housed under one roof. That’s something that’s going to be appreciated by our patrons.”

As far as COVID-19, the casino and hotel are in full compliance. Patrons will have their temperatures taken at all entrances to We-Ko-Pa. Anyone with temperatures over 100 will not be admitted into the facility.

Employees and patrons are required to wear masks, and the facility has a “large number” of sanitation stations with wipes.

“We also have a lot of signage, announcements and floor decals for social distancing,” Ketterling says.

“We’re limiting the number of folks who are in elevators at any time. Something new to us is a four-story parking garage. We’ll be limiting occupation in each of our outlets. Our food and beverage venues are at 50% of capacity or less. We have plexiglass barriers on gaming machines. We also have machines shut off to encourage distancing between gaming machines.”

Overall, the opening is exciting for the Yavapai Nation, Ketterling and the employees.

“I’m thrilled. The team is thrilled,” she says. “We have a number of very long-term employees who have worked for the nation for a long, long time. I can’t explain the level of excitement. The team is so excited to get into the new building and shot off their whole area.”

We-Ko-Pa Casino Resort, 10438 WeKoPa Way, Fort McDowell, 480.789.4957, wekopacasinoresort.com.

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