As an avid casino gambling enthusiast, I’ve made more than my fair share of sprints across the desert to soak in Sin City. But there’s also no shortage of casino options to choose from in the Copper State.
Thanks to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988, the 22 federally recognized Native American tribes residing in Arizona have set up 25 casinos from Flagstaff to Tucson, and all points in between.
In this guide, I’ll be talking about the Talking Stick Resort in Arizona. As someone who is local to the state, I’ll give you the rundown on what it’s all about.
Talking Stick Resort Rises From the Sands
For folks who are planning a trip to the warm and sunny climes of Arizona, it is my distinct pleasure to serve as your guide to my state’s casino gambling scene.
To begin this series covering the best and worst casinos in Arizona, the natural starting point is Talking Stick Resort, a glittering full-scale resort located just outside of Scottsdale. If you’re familiar with the area at all, taking a nighttime drive on the 101 North from Tempe and gazing to the east will leave you with no doubt about where to find Talking Stick Resort.
After all, you can’t miss the place, not with its neon hued 15-story hotel tower soaring above the saguaro and sand below. This place opened its doors in 2010, making it one of the newest casinos in the state, and every penny invested by the Salt River Indian Community Pima-Maricopa shines through at first sight.
Simply put, outside of the best casinos on the Vegas Strip, you just won’t find a top-tier gambling and entertainment destination like this anywhere in the Southwest.
Gambling Options at Talking Stick Resort
To begin with, the gaming floor alone at Talking Stick Resort encompasses more than 98,000 square feet, right on par with Sin City’s big boys like the Bellagio. That gaming floor contains over 850 slot and video poker machines, along with 54 table games featuring blackjack, Let It Ride, Three-Card Poker, and even Casino War.
Even better, unlike most casinos in Arizona —where non-card table games like roulette and craps aren’t permitted—Talking Stick Resort has all of your favorite gambling games. By using large “bubble craps” machines and virtual roulette wheels, the casino’s operators found a clever way to cater to their customers while still adhering to Arizona tribal gaming compacts.
You’ll definitely enjoy yourself here, thanks in part to the aforementioned allotment of 850+ machines featuring all of the latest titles and technology. If you’ve enjoyed a particular slot like Wheel of Fortune, Sex and the City, or Buffalo that have become staples in Vegas, you can bet your bottom dollar Talking Stick Resort has them in abundance.
Over in the table game pit, which is designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding slots and video poker machines, there are eager-to-please dealers working the tables 24/7. My status as a regular might have something to do with it, but the folks in the box at Talking Stick Resort always seem to have a smile and some small talk at the ready.
That should be par for the course in a quality casino, but you’d be surprised at just how many dealers in other Arizona venues just don’t bother with the customer service aspect of their profession.
My favorite part about Talking Stick Resort’s casino is how clean and modern every nook and cranny feels. From the keno parlor to the pit, the sports bar and the buffet, and even the bathroom facilities, this casino looks the part of a Las Vegas-style resort. That extends to every aspect of Talking Stick Resort, too.
Resort Amenities and Restaurants
Locals and visitors alike love the outdoor swimming area that doubles as a pool party. This section is complete with an in-house DJ and cocktails on demand during certain hours of the day.
If your gambling escapades have you working up an appetite, you’ll have no shortage of selections either, what with multiple eateries on-site—Black Fig Bistro, Ocean Trail, and Blue Coyote Café.
The amenities are truly off the charts at Talking Stick Resort. Did I mention there’s a golf club? The adjoining Talking Stick Golf Club is home to not one but two professionally designed 18-hole links. The O’odham Course (18 holes – 7,133 Yards, Par 70) and the Piipaash Course (18 holes – 6,833 Yards, Par 71) each offer their own distinct challenges, but both are nestled perfectly amidst the serenity and splendor of the surrounding Sonoran Desert.
The ARENA Room Is Every Poker Player’s Dream Come True
Back to the gambling bonanza that is Talking Stick Resort, the property is known far and wide in Arizona as the home of the ARENA Poker Room.
This facility was modeled after the biggest and best poker rooms in Vegas, and that shines through as soon as you step foot inside. A collection of 49 tables can be found inside the ARENA Poker Room, and on busy days, every last one of them will be ringed with gamblers playing poker for real money.
Unlike your typical Arizona poker room, the ARENA lives up to its billing by spreading much more than basic $1/$2 No Limit Texas Hold’em. You’ll find No Limit games running as high as $10/$20 blinds, along with variants like Pot Limit Omaha, Seven Card Stud, and even H.O.R.S.E.
If tournaments are more your thing, the ARENA poker room hosts daily and nightly tournaments ranging from the $100 to $300 buy-in level. These are augmented by several seasonal tournaments with even larger prize pools, plus the annual Arizona State Poker Championship which is regularly attended by top touring pros.
And once again, the staff working the poker room are all consummate professionals. From the tournament directors to the dealers to the chip runners, employees at the ARENA strive to make every step of the process seamless and pain-free.
Poker may not be in the gambling spotlight like it once was, but if you’re in Arizona and want to feel like you’re playing the game like Las Vegas pros do, Talking Stick Resort is the ticket.
From a Dusty Tent in the Desert to Arizona’s Diamond in the Rough
In the title, I admit that my reviews are slightly subjective, so let me tell you a little story about why I love Talking Stick Resort so much.
As a college kid, I spent my days studying textbooks and casino gambling manuals. I was fascinated with the blackjack card counters of old, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) on ESPN, and even the “backend” as I briefly explored a side job as a dealer. Sufficed to say, I went searching for the closest casino the day I turned 21.
At that time, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community operated a small venue called Casino Arizona* off the 101 and Indian Bend. But calling it a casino was generous to say the least, as this joint was essentially just an oversized tent. I’m talking a nondescript beige canopy stretched out to cover 20,000 square feet at most.
*The tribe also operates a second Casino Arizona facility a few miles south along the 101 where slots and bingo are the primary draw
To see just how far the tribe has come with its casino development since then is nothing short of astounding. Through hard work and patience, the people at the old Casino Arizona—many of whom are still plying their trade at Talking Stick Resort—managed to make a major investment in their own future.
I’m sure glad they did, and after you experience Talking Stick Resort for the first time, you will be too.
Talking Stick Resort stands alone as Arizona’s premier casino gambling destination for many reasons. Top-notch service, an elite collection of amenities, courteous, highly trained employees, and a certain sense of style usually reserved for Sin City—you name it, and Talking Stick Resort has it in spades.
By day, the place is packed with regulars who come for the cards and camaraderie. By night, the college kids and young at heart come to dance, drink, and party until sunrise. Picture the platonic ideal of a casino resort in your head, then visit Talking Stick Resort to see your vision realized.