Native Americans are among the casino industry leaders
By Sean Chaffin
Native Americans are proud and industrious people who have overcome hardships and setbacks throughout their existence. In the last few decades, many tribes across the country have emerged as leaders in the gaming, travel, and tourism industry, catering to Americans in all parts of the country. These tribal casinos oﬀer some of the best gaming and entertainment opportunities in the country, with corporate entities now moving beyond their traditional lands and even into casino- rich locations like Las Vegas.
Tribal casinos don’t simply add to the bottom line of a corporation—proﬁts are used to further a tribe’s opportunities, infrastructure, and improve daily lives. These properties help provide jobs, educational opportunities, medical services, and so much more.
Tribal casinos are becoming major leaders in the industry. According to the American Gaming Association, there were 515 Indian casino properties in 2022—more than the 349 land-based, riverboat, and racetrack casinos. Some states see a massive impact from the properties with Oklahoma hosting 136 properties, 82 in California, 40 in Minnesota, and 35 in Washington. Beyond oﬀering an excellent gaming experience, these properties provide jobs and an economic impact felt across the regions they serve. In 2021, tribal casino revenue accounted for $39 billion of the casino industry’s overall $92 billion. The industry has certainly overcome the downturn from the pandemic and looks to be coming back as strong as ever.
“While last year experienced a record number of closures there was also growth with new operations opening,” National Indian Gaming Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer noted in a report on the industry in August. “This demonstrates gaming operations and tribes are making diﬃcult decisions as they navigate a rebound from the pandemic.”
The last few years have seen tribal casino operations branching out beyond their own borders. The Seminoles of Florida already own Hard Rock International and are now bringing that brand to the Vegas Strip after announcing a purchase of the Mirage in 2022. The tribe’s casino enterprise began operating the property in December after regulatory approval and plans on building a guitar- shaped hotel on the Strip, much like the one seen at the Hard Rock property in Hollywood, FL. The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians has also made a major push into Sin City. The tribe purchased the Palms and reopened the property last year after the casino had been shuttered since the pandemic. The Palms received a $600 million renovation in 2019. The San Manuel are adding some changes of their own and the newly revamped property includes a resort pool venue featuring a multi-level 73,000-square-foot space with two main pools and 39 cabanas, many with private pools.
The Mohegan Tribe also has a foothold in Vegas, managing casino operations at the Mohegan Sun Virgin Casino. The group also manages operations at other commercial properties beyond the ﬂagship Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, including Mohegan Pennsylvania, Fallsview Casino and Casino Niagara in Canada, Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, and ilani Casino in Washington.
On Jan. 31, Mohegan joined forces with Soloviev Group for a New York City casino bid at Freedom Plaza on Manhattan’s east side. The announcement comes as a result of the New York State Gaming Commission’s request for applications to develop and operate up to three downstate casinos.
Many tribes are also reaching out to other parts of the country. In April, Alabama’s Poarch Creek Band purchased Sands Bethlehem, now rechristened Wind Creek Bethlehem. In June, the Cherokee Nation announced the purchase of operations for Gold Strike Tunica from MGM Resorts for $450 million. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians acquired the operations of Caesars Southern Indiana and continues providing a great gaming experience to casino players in the area.
Tribal casino executives and frontline employees continue to serve and play a pivotal role in the growing U.S. gaming industry. As tribes continue expanding and reaching beyond their own borders, more Americans are getting a taste of the great service and experiences available from these creative and forward-looking Native Americans.
GROWTH AND EXPANSION
As tribal properties continue growing and greeting more and more customers, properties across the country are seeing changes and additions, and oﬀering even more unique experiences. Tribal leaders and property executives also continue to show leadership when it comes to the economic interest of their organizations and lands. Here’s a look at some of the happenings at Native American casino properties and what visitors can look forward to in the years to come.
Prairie Band Casino & Resort (Mayetta, KS)
This property, operated by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, celebrated its 25th anniversary in January after unveiling a new hotel expansion in November. The new hotel includes 74 rooms, including luxury two- and three-bay suites, a full-service spa, and three Top Golf swing suites. The expansion also includes upgrades to the casino ﬂoor.
“It means a lot to the tribe and the business as a whole,” General Manager Bill Marsh told KSNT. “Just for the fact that business has been able to continue to grow and provide service to the community and develop and provide jobs to Prairie Band Potawatomi tribal members, as well as jobs throughout the surrounding communities.”
Quil Ceda Creek Casino (Tulalip, WA)
The property opened in February 2021 with 126,000 square feet of gaming space, more than doubling the size of the Tulalip Tribe’s previous casino across the street. The property oﬀers 1,500 slots, 16 table games, and more. The property also unveiled “The Stage” entertainment destination, oﬀering performances by major acts as well as live sports on four enormous video walls for the ultimate experience. The venue seats up to 189 with comfortable booths, tables and chairs, and seating at the bar.
The property also unveiled some excellent dining options including The Kitchen, oﬀering delectable casual dining; and The Landing, an exciting a la carte dining experience. Menu items spotlight fresh ingredients from selected Northwest suppliers and are prepared with the latest green cooking techniques.
Emerald Queen Casino (Tacoma, WA)
The good times keep coming for gamblers in the Evergreen State. This $400 million property, owned and operated by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, opened in late 2021 and oﬀers 310,000 square feet of gaming space including 2,100 slots and 60 table games. The Emerald Queen also unveiled a BetMGM Sportsbook in December. The property boasts a 155-room hotel, six dining venues, and an 1,800-seat event center.
The project was delayed a year because of COVID but is now fully operational, serving guests and gamblers throughout the region. The property expands the reach of the Puyallup, who own the Emerald Queen and BJ’s Bingo & Gaming as well, both located in Fife, WA.
Four Winds South Bend (South Bend, IN)
Many sports fans recognize South Bend as the home of Notre Dame, but the Four Winds is making quite a name for itself in northern Indiana. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians announced the property’s new 23-story hotel tower opened on March 1. Guests can expect 317 rooms including 83 suites, along with the new Cedar Spa, Edgewater Café, Ribbon Town Conference and Event Center, an outdoor swimming pool on the third ﬂoor, and terraces with spectacular views. In November 2021, the casino also opened a new sportsbook.
“March 1 marks the culmination of a nearly two and a half year journey to realize our vision to expand Four Winds South Bend,” Tribal Chairwoman Rebecca Richards said. “We have so many people to thank that helped make this dream a reality including Frank Freedman and our casino operations team, our project manager, our general contractors, construction workers and vendors. We can’t wait for our Pokagon Citizens, as well as every guest, to experience the new facility.”
Snoqualmie Casino (Snoqualmie, WA)
Washington is a hotbed of tribal casino expansion and the Snoqualmie Tribe is also getting in the act. In January, the casino unveiled photo renderings of the casino’s expansion, targeting an early 2025 opening. Snoqualmie is planning a new 210-room luxury hotel, an additional 11,000 square feet of gaming ﬂoor space, a full-service spa, ﬁtness center and indoor pool with outdoor deck, a 2,000-seat entertainment and convention center, an onsite parking structure, and two restaurants.
The new upscale amenities will also include details inspired by Snoqualmie culture. From the modern slant-roof hotel design that represents the longhouses of the tribe’s ancestors to the carefully chosen artwork throughout the resort, guests will enjoy state-of-the-art comfort alongside an homage to the tribe.
Spokane Tribe Casino (Airway Heights, WA)
In 2021, this property completed the second phase of a $400 million economic development plan that calls for a hotel, convention center, dining, retail stores, entertainment center, and a cultural center on the casino’s 145-acre site.
That phase doubled the size of the casino ﬂoor with 20,000 square feet of added gaming space, a larger non-smoking gaming area, poker room, new dining options, and sports betting area. The Spokane Tribe broke ground and construction continues on the entertainment venue, oﬃce space, and more.
Gun Lake Casino (Wayland, MI)
The expansion continues at this casino from the Match-E-Be-Nash-She- Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe). The $300 million project includes a hotel and spa, additional dining venues, and the Aquadome entertainment destination. The 15-ﬂoor hotel tower will include 252 rooms, 30 suites, and a two-story Ogema suite with a grand staircase, elevator, indoor/outdoor dining areas, two bedrooms, and ﬂoor-to-ceiling windows.
The Aquadome oﬀers a fully enclosed glass atrium with natural light and an indoor resort pool environment as well as a high-energy entertainment venue for a night club or concert atmosphere. Guests will ﬁnd three separate pools: a VIP pool, 21-plus pool with a swim-up bar, and a family- friendly pool. The venue is expected to accommodate 2,400 guests. The expansion is on track for a spring 2025 completion.
Mohegan Sun (Uncasville, CT)
Casino players continue ﬂocking to the Mohegan Sun, one of the most popular gaming destinations in the Northeast. Even more is in the works for 2023. The property will soon open the 6,500-square- foot Earth Lounge, featuring a full bar and dining with a beautiful ﬁreplace. The ambiance includes Mohegan tribal inﬂuences and elements among an elegant atmosphere.
The opening of the new Sun Patio is also on the horizon. The outdoor amenity should debut this year, oﬀering a partially covered summer entrance location. Look for a modernized facility to better accommodate the weekly Party on the Patio summer concert series. The project includes a permanent bar, stylish deck, spaces for lawn games, and eventually a revamped music stage and more. Beauty & Essex, a popular restaurant serving global cuisine with unique shareable dishes and new twists on classic cocktails, also heads to Mohegan Sun in early 2024.
Muckleshoot Casino (Auburn, WA)
After a groundbreaking ceremony in 2019, Muckleshoot looks to ﬁnish up a major expansion this year. The project has included multiple phases and will see the property become the largest casino resort hotel in the state. The ﬁrst phase of construction was completed in 2020 with a new casino ﬂoor plan adding 10,000 square feet, increasing total gaming space to 157,000 square feet.
The expansion also included a larger smoke-free area, new casino center bar, upgraded exterior, 20,000-square-foot events center, fast-casual restaurants, and a Muckleshoot Tribe History Cultural Center. The second phase of construction will see the opening of an 18-story hotel tower with 400 luxury guest rooms and suites. Guests will also ﬁnd a new indoor pool, luxury spa, rooftop restaurant with ﬁne dining, and a children’s arcade and play area.
Choctaw Nation (OK)
This tribe celebrates 35 years in gaming this year and operates properties across the Sooner State, with the Choctaw in Durant as the tribe’s ﬂagship property. The group has plenty of projects in the works. That included launching a free-to-play mobile slots game called Choctaw Slots with more than 100 popular games as well as blackjack, bingo, video poker, and more.
In June 2022, Choctaw broke ground on a $165 million hotel and entertainment resort in Hochatown, located in southeastern Oklahoma near the popular Broken Bow Lake and Beavers Bend State Park vacation destinations. The 200,000-square-foot Choctaw Landing will include 100 hotel rooms, 600 slots, eight table games, several restaurants and bars, a pool, an outdoor venue with an amphitheater, beer garden, and a family-friendly game zone. A 12,000-square-foot mercantile center is also included with grocery items, three dining options, and a fuel station with 24 pumps.
Additionally, Choctaw is upgrading the Durant property with a complete remodel of the Grand Tower rooms and the addition of a new food hall, both scheduled to open fall 2023. In 2021, the 21- story Sky Tower opened with 1,000 guest rooms and suites as well as 3,200 slots and table games and a 30-table poker room. Through partnerships with the Dallas Mavericks, Dallas Stars, and Texas Rangers, the casino unveiled The League sports bar. Choctaw Casino in Grant, OK, has launched an annual outdoor music festival known as Taloa Fest. The event is focused on red dirt and Texas country music. Choctaw properties in Pocola and Durant continue oﬀering great music experiences as well.
Harrah’s Cherokee (Murphy, NC)
Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel broke ground in September on a $275 million expansion project expected to be completed in 2024. Additions include 25,000 square feet of expanded gaming ﬂoor, a 296-room hotel tower, a 12,000-square-foot rooftop restaurant, and more. The larger gaming space sees a 50 percent increase with 400 new slot machines, 12 additional table games, and a 10-table World Series of Poker poker room. A new casino center bar is also part of the project.
The new hotel tower will double the total number of guest rooms currently available. Along with the hotel, guests will ﬁnd a new 30-seat motorcoach lobby for bus patrons along with an indoor pool, ﬁtness center, 9,600-square-foot full-service spa and salon, an expanded hotel porte-cochere for valet services, an expanded hotel lobby, and more. A new parking structure will oﬀer over 1,700 additional spaces as well.
NEW PROPERTIES, VENTURES & VENUES
Okana Resort and Indoor Waterpark (Oklahoma City, OK)
The Chickasaw Nation operates the WinStar, River Wind, and several other casinos across Oklahoma, but is now adding a new venture to its portfolio. The tribe broke ground on this $400 million facility in November. Situated along the Oklahoma River near downtown, the ﬁrst phase of the project will develop about 40 of the 140 acres at the site. The resort will feature an 11-story, 404-room hotel complete with riverfront and lagoon views. A 4.5-acre outdoor adventure lagoon will sit at the center of the outdoor recreation area, complete with sandy beaches and two smaller bodies of water.
The resort will also feature a 12,000-square-foot family entertainment center, a two-level indoor waterpark covering over 100,000 square feet, 39,000 square feet of conference center space, a spa, a golf simulator, and retail and dining options covering 36,000 square feet. A 25,000-square-foot First Americans Retail Gallery and amphitheater will feature Native American artists.
“We expect the Okana Resort and Indoor Waterpark to be a signiﬁcant economic driver of job growth and opportunities for everyone in this region,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said. “We celebrate the continuation of strong partnerships among city and state oﬃcials and private entities that have been integral in bringing this signiﬁcant tourism and hospitality venue to central Oklahoma.”
Seminole Casino Hotel Brighton (Okeechobee, FL)
The Seminole Tribe broke ground in January on an entirely new casino, hotel, and entertainment complex to be built on the Brighton Seminole Reservation, northwest of Lake Okeechobee. The project is slated to open in late 2024 and will replace the existing Seminole Brighton Casino, which ﬁrst opened in 1980 and is located three miles north of the future Brighton resort. The new facility includes a 38,000-square-foot casino with 623 slot machines and 18 tables. That includes a smoke- free space with 101 slots and a high-limit gaming area with 42 slots and four table games.
There will also be a four-story, 100-room hotel, the ﬁrst built on the Brighton Reservation. A pool and amenity deck will be located adjacent to the hotel with a 1,500-square-foot pool plus a 12,500- square-foot deck with space for 76 chaise lounges, 40 chairs, and two cabanas. An outdoor stage will provide a second entertainment venue at the complex and will accommodate as many as 3,000 guests for concerts and other performances.
Plans for the property also call for a 24-hour restaurant, a steakhouse, and a quick-service and carry-out cafe with coﬀee bar. Visitors will ﬁnd an indoor event space with snack bar, which can be conﬁgured to oﬀer 400 seats for banquet events or bingo, or 900 seats when used as a performance hall. An eight-lane bowling alley is also in the works along with a 75-acre site for parking.
WindCreek South Suburban Casino (East Hazel Crest, IL)
Windy City residents will soon have another casino option. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Wind Creek Hospitality announced the start of construction of this new property in June. Look for an opening this year in 2023, adding to the Wind Creek portfolio that includes gaming facilities in Alabama, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, and in Aruba and Curaçao in the Caribbean. Chicago-area gamblers can expect a 70,000-square-foot casino with 1,350 slots, 56 table games, entertainment options, dining, a 252-room luxury hotel, and more.
“Wind Creek doesn’t just build casinos, we truly build communities,” Poarch Creek Tribal Chair and CEO Stephanie Bryan said. “We’re so very thankful for the support of community leaders, local organizations and residents of the south suburbs who helped get us to this point—and look forward to working with you to ensure that the beneﬁts associated with this project are experienced by the entire region.”
Eagle Mountain Casino (Porterville, CA)
The Tule River Tribe has big plans for a completely new casino 17 miles from the current casino. The project began in April 2021 and will include a 105,000-square-foot casino, oﬀering 1,750 slots, 20 table games, and four dining options including a steakhouse, diner, café and sports bar and grill. There will also be a 2,000-seat event center and 125-room hotel. Plans include a 20,000-square-foot banquet and conference center. No oﬃcial completion date has been announced yet, but much of the project is expected to be ﬁnished this year. The Tule River will incorporate some of its history and culture into the new casino.
“The new casino relocation to Porterville will oﬀer a more centralized location for casino guests and will bring a bit of Tule River culture into the valley by keeping the feel of the Tule River heritage in the architecture and the gaming experience,” principal designer Rob Jurbergs said. “As designers, we ﬁnd the research phase and immersion into our client’s culture and project vision fascinating, so, we were thrilled that the ownership team decided to integrate key elements of their tribal land, and their relationship with the land, into the property aesthetic. It becomes quite an important and unique diﬀerentiator.”
The tribe is also repurposing the existing casino once the new venue is complete. That will include expansion of the existing tribal school, oﬀering additional health services, oﬃces for tribal government, and some food and restaurant options for tribal members.
Tribal Casinos Expanding Sports Betting Enterprises and Partnerships
Just ﬁve years ago, bettors had to be in the state of Nevada to place a sports wager. That’s certainly changed with states legalizing at a rapid rate and casinos across the country opening the betting windows. Players can now make a wager in 35 states and territories (including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico), and tribal casinos are a large part of that as well.
While oﬃcial tribal numbers aren’t available, the commercial gaming industry brought in revenue of $60 billion in 2022. Of that, $7.5 billion came from sports betting—a 73% increase from the previous year. In 2021, tribal properties brought in $39 billion and it’s a good bet the industry topped that last year. And as more Indian casinos open retail sportsbooks and partner with mobile betting operators, the industry oﬀers a chance to become a bigger and bigger part of that overall revenue picture.
The tribal casino industry is seeing major strides when it comes to sports betting in states like New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington, and more. Properties are going the extra mile to oﬀer amazing sportsbook venues with massive viewing screens, bars, food, and much more.
More bettors are seeing these books as the place to be for football weekends, March Madness, playoﬀs, and on other big game nights. Sports betting oﬀers yet another avenue for growth and America’s tribes are meeting that demand and oﬀering a great experience.
Turning Stone Turning Up the Heat with Added Facilities in New York
The Oneida Indian Nation in central New York has become a leader in the northeast gaming industry and announced some expansion plans in September. The multi-year project will nearly double the size of conference and convention space at Turning Stone, which is already one of the region’s largest conference venues. The expansion also includes a new hotel with 250 rooms, dining options, outdoor spaces, and other amenities.
This becomes the largest expansion and ﬁnancial reinvestment at the property in the last 20 years. The tribe believes the additions will attract more regional and national events from around the country and bring even more tourism to the region.
The expansion project at Turning Stone will result in millions of dollars spent with local businesses and vendors, and will also support the continued growth of the Oneida workforce with hundreds of new permanent jobs once completed. Over the last three decades, the tribe has invested more than $1 billion in central New York. Tribal leaders expect to break ground this year.
“As we begin our largest reinvestment in two decades, we embark upon a new chapter for our enterprises, ensuring that we remain one of the top event and tourism destinations in New York for decades to come,” Oneida Nation Enterprises CEO Ray Halbritter said. “Today we are experiencing record demand for hosting conferences and other events at Turning Stone that far outpaces our current hotel and convention facilities. This extensive multi-year expansion project will help us meet this rising need and even greater demand in the future.
“Our 30-year track record has proven that investments like this are essential to sustain the growth and success of our enterprises and the entire region.”
Turning Stone already oﬀers a world-class casino experience with ﬁve hotels, two luxurious spas, ﬁve golf courses, and more than 20 dining options. Visitors will also ﬁnd a 125,000-square-foot gaming ﬂoor, a cabaret-style showroom, a 5,000-seat event center, customizable meeting and conference spaces, and more. The expansion plans now add to the property considerably. Area oﬃcials are pleased to see even more growth coming to the region.
“As one of the largest employers and key contributors for investments that bring millions of visitors to central New York every year, the Oneida Indian Nation has been a critical driver in the economic development of Oneida County,” Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said. “This latest investment at Turning Stone Resort Casino expands on this partnership and, along with the Nexus Center, continues our shared goal for the revitalization of Oneida County.
“We know that when the Oneida Indian Nation does well, Oneida County does well, and the expansion of Turning Stone will help grow this success with increased tourism, new jobs, and more.”
“The partnership between the Oneida Indian Nation and the Town of Verona has played an important role in our mutual growth and success,” said Verona Town Supervisor Scott Musacchio. “Recently, this partnership helped provide water and sewer infrastructure for the Oneida Indian Nation’s new employee housing, an innovative approach to increasing aﬀordable housing and growing jobs within our community. Turning Stone’s expansion will continue this partnership, injecting signiﬁcant investment into our local economy, and further establishing Verona as a world- class destination for tourism, conventions, and more.”