State Indian casinos cashing in, booming
BY JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUS Associated Press
Friday, October 17, 2008
10/17/08 at 2:34 AM
Despite a recent economic downturn, gambling venues are still successful.
These days, you just need to glance at the 19-story hotel tower under construction at the Cherokee Casino Resort outside Tulsa to gauge how the tribal gambling business is doing in Oklahoma.
The expansion there, and at several other casinos around Oklahoma, indicates that the multibillion-dollar industry is going strong, despite an economic downturn plaguing the rest of the country.
"We're very aware of what's going on in the economy in the U.S., and to a large degree, Oklahoma and Texas are insulated," said Brian Campbell, CEO of the Chickasaw Nation Division of Commerce. "It seems like everything's been holding up well. I know our business is doing great."
The Chickasaw Nation runs the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville near the Texas border. The operation, which began in the early 1990s as a bingo parlor, grew to a 183,000-square-foot facility.
With its current expansion, the casino will balloon to 519,000 square feet — the bulk of it gaming space, Campbell said.
Business is also solid for the Cherokee Nation, which operates seven casinos in Oklahoma and recently announced a plan to hire 1,000 new employees.
With the economic downturn nipping at pocketbooks and high travel costs, casinos are trying to attract customers who are thinking better of a lavish vacation but still want entertainment.
"We see a lot of people staying in Oklahoma and coming to our place," said David Stewart, CEO of Cherokee Nation Enterprises, which manages the tribe's entertainment and retail operations. "We're just going to go to the casino, and we can do that for much less, dollar for dollar, on the amenity. Also, we don't have to spend a couple thousand dollars on airplane tickets."
Tribal gambling in Oklahoma is big business, generating nearly $2.5 billion in revenue last year. The figure ranks the state behind only California and Connecticut, according to the Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report, released in August.
The report also found that Oklahoma was one of only eight states to see double-digit growth in tribal gambling revenue in 2007.
More than 30 tribes operated 101 gambling operations in Oklahoma in 2007, up five facilities than the previous year, the report found.
Some recent casino expansions in Oklahoma:
WinStar World Casino in Thackerville is expanding from 183,000 square feet to 519,000 square feet of space.
The Cherokee Casino Resort in Catoosa is undergoing a $125 million expansion that will add a hotel tower with upscale suites, a nightclub, an event and concert arena and a convention hall, among other amenities.
The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes plan to open a casino near Hinton in western Oklahoma on a 5-acre tract near Interstate 40.
In July, the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma's Downstream Casino Resort opened along Interstate 44 at the juncture of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is building a new casino in south Tulsa. The first phase, estimated to cost about $160 million, is expected to be done by early next year.