FARMINGTON — The first ever Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise Chief Executive Officer announced this week he will resign from his position Jan. 1.

Bob Winter, 68, will remain CEO through the year to complete planning for the Pinta Road Casino & Travel Center near the New Mexico-Arizona border.

"I have had the privilege to work for an extraordinary board of directors, as well as with caring and committed Enterprise staff and casino employees during my time with NNGE," Winter said in a press release Thursday.

"When I was confirmed as CEO in 2007, I advised members of the Council that it was my goal to mentor a Navajo for the CEO position and I wouldn't resign until I had found the right person," he said.

NNGE Chief Financial Officer Derrick Watchman, of Window Rock, is expected to be named CEO by the board of directors during a transition period.

"Having worked closely with Derrick during my tenure as CEO, I have total confidence in his ability to lead the NNGE," Winter said. "He is, without a doubt, the right person for the job."

Winter decided to leave his position to focus on completing the development and opening of the NNGE's fourth casino, Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort near Flagstaff, Ariz.

The casino resort is expected to be completed by November 2013, said Winter, who will remain with the NNGE as a development consultant.

Winter oversaw the opening of the NNGE's first three casinos, including Fire Rock Navajo Casino near Gallup, Flowing Water Navajo Casino near Shiprock, and Northern Edge Navajo Casino near Upper Fruitland.

In June, after three years of casino operations, the NNGE Board of Directors authorized the first distribution of gaming profits to the Navajo Nation Gaming Distribution Fund.

The first distribution to the Navajo Nation was $5 million with future distributions expected to increase over the coming years, the press release said.

The NNGE also has made available about 700 jobs within their casinos, 85 percent of which are taken up by Navajo. Job earnings, including benefits, have totaled about $47 million in the past three years, according to Winter.

"Under (Winter's) leadership NNGE provided thousands of Navajo people with jobs, competitive wages, and the ability to provide for their families," said Quincy Natay, NNGE Board chairman. "During Bob's tenure, he consistently advocated that the Navajo Nation has the talent within to make gaming profitable."

The NNGE already has big plans for some of its existing and future casinos and resorts.

Northern Edge Navajo Casino is expected to gain a hotel and an entertainment center, both of which have nearly completed master plans, Winter said Friday. Flowing Water Navajo Casino also is expected to receive improvements, though likely no substantial expansions.

Both the Pinta Road Casino & Travel Center, and also the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort, are expected to be successful.

While the Pinta Road Casino is more of a stop-over for travelers, and the other will include a 200-room hotel, a night club and a conference center.

The NNGE is a Navajo Nation-owned business agency created by the tribe in September 2006. NNGE is authorized by the Navajo Nation to develop and operate Navajo casinos in accordance with federal and Navajo Nation laws.

Local chapters are required to decriminalize gaming before casinos are allowed in their area.