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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Tribal casino tries to dip into Laughlin's customer base

27 November 2006

LAUGHLIN, Nevada -- When Nevada's first American Indian-run casino opened here in 1995, it didn't draw much attention. The Fort Mohave Tribal Council built the Avi for just $47 million and its 25,000-square-foot casino wasn't considered competition to the corporate-owned properties near the Colorado River gaming community.

But 11 years later, Laughlin casino operators are noticing.

"It doesn't really get reported much, but they've probably been the most active in the market in terms of upgrading their product," Harrah's Laughlin General Manager Wade Fall said of the Avi, which is about 10 miles south of the Laughlin casino cluster near the Nevada-California border. When it opened, the tribe spent $2.3 million to build a bridge across the river to connect the casino with customers in Bullhead City, Ariz.

"They're doing a good job at taking a run at us," Fall said.

The Avi recently doubled the size of the casino and increased the number of hotel rooms to 455.

The Avi also enlarged its banquet and entertainment venues and added an eight-screen movie theater.

The Avi has six restaurants, a private white sand beach on the banks of the Colorado River, a recreational vehicle park and an 18-hole championship golf course.

Avi media manager K. Dee Ignatin said she's glad the competition knows the property is drawing customers.

"We're glad everyone is taking notice," Ignatin said. "We really view ourselves as the only true resort on the river. We're very competitive, but we do work together as a community. The Avi is considered a major competitor."

Because the Avi is a tribal casino, its gaming revenues are private and not included in the statistics reported monthly by the state. However, the casino is regulated by the Gaming Control Board and must comply with all state gaming statutes.

"We don't look at ourselves as a typical corporate entity," Ignatin said. "We can be much more responsive to the customer."

She said visitation has picked up since the expansion finished. Hotel occupancy was better than 90 percent between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Ignatin said.

"Our great strength is our appeal to families," Ignatin said. "We offer free boat parking."

During a recent fireworks show and celebration at the resort, Ignatin said town founder Don Laughlin flew his helicopter overhead.

"Even he's noticed us," she said.