River Spirit Casino Resort will reopen its doors to gamblers, diners and hotel guests at 8 a.m. June 21, but visitors can leave their swimsuits at home — the resort’s popular riverside pool won’t be open until mid-to-late July, officials with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation said Thursday.
The delayed pool opening was about the only bad news to come out of a carefully staged news conference attended by tribal officials and resort employees. The resort has been closed since May 22 to address problems created when the adjacent Arkansas River flooded.
The resort is reopening 10 days earlier than expected. Tribal officials had initially said they did not expect to be back in business until the end of the month.
“You probably have all seen some videos,” said the resort’s chief executive officer, Pat Crofts. “They look terrible. Quite honestly, very little water got into the building.
“All of the damage was contained on the lower level of the facility, or our pool deck, down to the lower levels.”
Crofts, who spoke near the entrance of the Paradise Cove event center inside the resort, said the floodwaters never got closer than 12 feet below where he was standing.
“That is the biggest misconception: that the casino got flooded, the restaurant got flooded, the hotel rooms,” he said.
The floodwaters did reach the spa, salon and fitness center on the lower level, Crofts said, and they will reopen in phases over the summer.
Crofts said tribal officials never had a concern that the structure was in danger. He noted that it was built with nearly 700 concrete-reinforced piers that extend deep into the ground and are socketed to bedrock.
The decision to open the facility sooner than expected was made only after Wallace Engineering did a thorough inspection of it, Crofts said.
“The building is in great shape,” he said.
More than 400 workers have been on site around the clock cleaning the parking lot and other exterior areas of the facility. Within 24 hours after the resort was closed, the Creek Nation brought in portable air-conditioning systems with massive tubes that snaked throughout the structure.
“We conditioned and dehumidified the air in the entire facility, and that is not an easy feat because we have 1.8 million square feet under roof,” Crofts said.
Principal Chief James Floyd said River Spirit Casino employs 1,600 people and another 200 are employed at Margaritaville and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
“Our first commitment is to our employees, and so with the support of River Spirit, we committed to paying all employees during this closure,” Floyd said. “And that payroll was approximately $2.5 million per pay period.”
Floyd said after the press conference that the Creek Nation has yet to determine how much it has spent to repair the resort and its other properties damaged in the flooding. The tribe is scheduled to meet with representatives of FEMA on Friday to discuss the assessment and reimbursement process.
Visitors can stay in the casino hotel beginning June 21 and can book rooms immediately. Ruth’s Chris Steak House is also available for dinner reservations that night.
The Rodney Carrington show will proceed as scheduled June 29.
Joshua Halcomb, a blackjack dealer, was at Thursday’s news conference and stuck around afterward for an employee meeting. He said he was grateful to the tribe for paying him while the casino was closed.
As for getting back to work dealing cards, he expects to be as sharp as ever.
“We have been doing it a long time,” he said. “So it’s kind of like riding a bike.”