Items tend to grow big on the Great Plaines, whether its corn, wheat or, in the case of Oklahoma, its burgeoning tribal gaming industry.
How rapidly has the industry grown? In 2001, a handful of Oklahoma-area tribal gaming operations generated almost $300 million in combined gross revenue (CGR). By 2012, the last year CGR figures have been released by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Oklahoma marketplace was home to roughly 120 gaming operations, ranging in size from gas station gaming machine annexes to full-scale resort-style casinos, which generated a CGR in the vicinity of $3.8 billion.
In little over a decade, Oklahoma has risen to become the second largest tribal gaming market in the United States, trailing only California in terms of revenue. The region currently accounts for 14 percent of $27.9 billion CGR generated by the U.S.-based tribal gaming industry as a whole; the state’s 120 gaming facilities comprise 28 percent of all tribal gaming operations up and running as of 2012.
And casino gaming is still expanding in state. Recently, the Shawnee tribe unveiled plans to develop Golden Mesa Casino in the Oklahoma panhandle community of Guymon. According to the Guymon Daily Herald, the project will feature approximately 600 electronic games, eight blackjack tables, a restaurant, a bar and a casino entertainment center that can accommodate future expansion.
To say the least, so many gaming properties crammed into such a (relatively) small area means competition for the gambling patron is fierce. To survive and thrive in such a scenario, it is imperative a gaming facility prominently stands out from the crowd. One way operators have managed to accomplish this task is through attention-grabbing architecture and design. Indeed, in many ways Oklahoma has become a test lab for modern Indian casino schema, as architects and designers attempt to balance a tribe’s cultural wishes with marketplace realities.
Below you will find some old, new and recently renovated Oklahoma tribal gaming properties that exemplify this trend, as determined by the editors of Casino Journal magazine:
WINSTAR WORLD CASINO AND RESORT EXPANSION
Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma
The Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma struck gold in 2004 when it came to creating a theme for its new Winstar World casino resort—a “cities of the world” travel motif that resonated with customers driving in from nearby Dallas, Texas. Over time, the facility has undergone a number of expansions to become one of the largest casinos in Oklahoma, the most recent of which included a 54,000-square-foot addition to the casino an 18-story, 500-room hotel tower, and a 15-story, 500-room hotel. Memphis, Tenn.-based architecture and design firm Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG) was tasked with bringing this expansion to life. What the company came up with was its own design interpretation of the property’s popular theme.
“The travel-themed motif at the casino is very closely tied into the Winstar World Casino and Resort brand, so we naturally embraced and enhanced the concept,” said Rob Jurbergs, AIA, principal and designer at HBG when the expansion was unveiled last year. “The inspiration for the new upscale casino design captures the excitement and wonder of faraway voyages in the gilded age of travel.”
The fresh new design features literal-themed elements set within the context of a refined interpretation of the European cities of Paris, Madrid and Barcelona. Jurbergs worked with Emily Marshall, an interior designer at HBG, to ramp up the quality level of the new interiors. “The design creates synergy between the existing casino and new gaming, dining and event offerings,” Marshall said. “We really amped up the quality level, but focused on smoothly transitioning the new and existing areas, especially at adjacencies to the existing casino floor,” she said.
Hnedak Bobo also looked toward the modern world for design inspiration, especially when it came to designing the casino space. A unique immersive gaming area, called Casino 360, was also created and it has proven to be a hit with WinStar guests, especially younger customers fluent in social media, according to company press materials. It is a new interactive gaming experience never before seen in the industry that creates a destination on the casino floor. This intimate new gaming room uses the most high-tech equipment on the market to interact with players and winners. Gamers feel like they are entering a totally different venue when they take the LED-lit portal to enter Casino 360.
The area consists of 65 machines centered on a large cylindrical high-resolution video screen. The screen interacts with the gaming machines, and its lights, speakers and banner ticker surround players literally from every direction. As jackpots are made, all of the equipment works in tandem to create an engaging light show that celebrates winners. The room also encourages the use of social media during play, by displaying the gamers’ tweets and Facebook comments as they are made.
Throughout, the consistency of high-quality aesthetics and design storytelling makes the new casino expansion and new resort hotels a standout, engaging guests at every touch point and helping them develop an emotional connection with the WinStar brand.
RIVER SPIRIT CASINO
Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma
The River Spirit story begins with the opening of its predecessor—the Creek Nation Casino-Tulsa Bingo—in 1984. By the middle of the 2000s, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma decided it was time to upgrade and expand the facility by adding three restaurants, two lounges, a retail shop, and a 300,000-square-foot gaming floor with 2,800 slot machines and 39 table games all atop a 1,300-car parking garage. The tribe turned to Minneapolis, Minn.-based design firm Cuningham Group Architecture to help make this vision a reality.
When the $195 million River Spirit Casino opened in 2009, it featured a design that reflected the nearby Arkansas River, according to the Cuningham Group website. The elements can be seen as visitors approach the facility—the lit organic structure glows with horizontal elements reminiscent of a riverbank or bluff. The water theme is also evident inside the facility with details such as the river’s water articulated in ceiling elements that use curving, undulating panels. The design of the buffet is designed to be reminiscent of the fall harvest along the bank of a creek. The resulting environment captures the story of the tribe as well as draws in and entertains guests.
Today, River Spirit is undergoing yet another transformation. Last month, the property opened the world’s largest Jimmy Buffett-themed 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar, an important adjunct to River Spirit’s planned $365 million Margaritaville expansion. When completed, this expansion will include a 27-story, 483-room hotel tower, a themed casino, a Margaritaville restaurant with two decks overlooking the Arkansas River, a Mickey Mantle’s steakhouse, 30,000 square feet of meeting space, an entertainment venue that will seat up to 3,000 and a new entrance, according to Tulsa World newspaper.
CHOCTAW CASINO DURANT
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
When the Choctaw decided to expand and upgrade its gaming facility in the community of Durant, the tribe turned to WORTHGROUP Architects & Designers, a Denver, Colo.-based design firm, to provide master planning, architecture, interior design, special feature design and art and sculpture services for the project. Plans called for a 125,000-square-foot casino; a 330-room hotel complex that included a casual restaurant, steak house, buffet, Mexican restaurant and a food court; retail shops, natatorium with an indoor/outdoor pool, fitness room and spa.
By the time Choctaw Casino Durant celebrated its grand reopening in 2010, a lot of these tasks had been accomplished, with WORTHGROUP incorporating tribal design motifs wherever possible. For example, capturing the movement of the tribe’s symbolic western diamondback rattlesnake, undulating curves seemingly put the hotel tower architectural design in motion, according to the company’s website. With the onset of evening, the illuminated interpretation of color from Choctaw ancestral garments and beadwork transforms the tower into a vibrant beacon visible for miles. Touching everything from color palettes to lighting patterns, the symbolism of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma can also be found carefully integrated throughout the project’s entire interior design. The entire casino resort is an expression of the tribe’s past, present, and bright future, highlighted in vivid materials, coloration and illumination.
From the initiation of the project design process, the Choctaw Nations of Oklahoma had envisioned a dramatic entry sculpture expressive of the Choctaw Nation. The symbolic white buffalo was selected as the focal piece of the artwork and the overall concept was derived from a buffalo walking across an open Oklahoma plain throughout the seasons. Added to the sculpture was a fantastic light and water show which occurs every hour within the casino lobby. At over twenty feet in height and eighty feet in length, the spectacular sculptural wall is a beautiful first impression to the entire resort.
From a master planning perspective, the Choctaw envision the future phases of the property reaching new markets enabling it to truly become a family-friendly destination resort. One of several Master Plan studies calls for a first hotel tower with a spectacular new north entertainment and spa tower directly connected to the new retail, entertainment, and convention center district. Tripling in size, the Oasis Pool becomes the main feature at the core of the property and is balanced by the addition of the family district created to the south of the original casino containing the theatre and entertainment complex, waterpark and family lodge.
DOWNSTREAM CASINO RESORT
For the Downstream Casino Resort, Hartford, Conn.-based JCJ Architecture along with Manhattan Construction Design Build were challenged to create a new, market responsive, regional destination that would rival the best in the nation and be fully operational in less than one year, according to the company’s website. The design team undertook site feasibility, master planning and full design services for gaming, hotel, food & beverage and associated amenities. Just 10 months and 26 days later, the Downstream Casino Resort opened to great acclaim.
As part of the first phase of development, JCJ designed the original casino to include 2,000 machines, 44 tables games, including poker, and a 12-story, 222-room hotel with indoor pool, fitness room and an expansive entertainment terrace with a 5,100-seat outdoor concert venue. JCJ integrated indigenous architectural styles with tribal iconography to create a sophisticated, cultural expression for the Quapaw Tribe. Careful research of tribal artifacts revealed a recurring ‘interlaced spiral’ emblem which became inspiration for several key design elements, including the central features at the main casino bar and the entrance.
Expansions were subsequently undertaken that included a multi-use entertainment/conference facility with regular live theatre and concert bookings; a seven-story, 152-room hotel, including 12 single-room and four dual-room luxury suites; full spa, indoor pool and expanded dining choices; an on-site day care center for employees; and an 8,000 square foot convenience store/gas station and RV park on the Missouri side of the property.
DUCK CREEK CASINO REVOVATION
Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma
Like many gaming properties in Oklahoma, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma-owned Duck Creek Casino has undergone a number of expansions and refurbishments to keep pace in the highly competitive regional gaming marketplace. The latest of these renovations was undertaken by Lacey, Wash.-based I-5 Design & Manufacture, which was tasked with creating a new, contemporary design theme for the interior and exterior of Creek Nation’s 10-year-old Duck Creek casino property. According to the firm’s website, the new plan was to build from the local surroundings to provide a comfortable and inviting environment, while also providing an exciting entertainment destination to the area.
Inspired by the surrounding creeks and wildlife, nature-imagery and finishes were blended with state-of-the-art materials and technology to create an overall decor theme which created a beautiful flow through the property. For example, custom “Creeks Edge” pre-fabricated soffits with integrated LED lighting and specialty finishes were created to integrate with the existing ceiling while curving their way around the perimeter of the gaming floor. Curved ceiling elements with a soft blue glow swirl their way across the ceiling to represent flowing water, and soft green and amber chandeliers stand out like lilies on a pond. Wall murals depict duck silhouettes against an abstract creek backdrop, and the custom carpet evokes an image of reeds and grasses along stream banks.
The interior casino design theme continues with a unique sculpted “waterfall” element with featured programmable LED lighting that washes the wall in light and large stone-wrapped architectural columns that flank each side.
As part of the 10,000-square-foot remodel, I-5 also designed and implemented changes to the location’s café and players club venues. All new millwork, flooring, and rustic lighting were provided for each area, along with custom tables and chairs for the casual dining space.
I-5 Design created a turnkey renovation solution for the Creek Nation that transformed their Duck Creek location into a regional entertainment destination. The project all started with a high-impact concept casino design, then followed by forward-thinking build-out solutions, and finished with an extremely efficient implementation plan. All of this allowed the entire project to be completed in less than two months on-site. The renovated interior greets guests as they enter the property and provides a warm and exciting entertainment location.
The Muscogee Creek Nation is extremely happy with the solutions that were designed and implemented for Duck Creek Casino and have reported that during the changes, customers and revenues went up.
COMANCHE SPUR CASINO
Comanche Nation of Oklahoma
It’s usually the larger gaming properties that get all the attention whether they are located in Oklahoma or elsewhere in the U.S., but it’s the smaller facilities and machine parlors that provide the lion’s share of convenience gaming opportunity and profits. Despite their picayune nature, these properties sometimes also feature inspired design. One such facility is the Comanche Spur Casino, a 9,600-square-foot facility with a 3,100-square-foot state-of-the-art gaming floor with 100 slot machines, convenience store, smoke shop and fueling station. The sleek, modernistic structure was designed by Springfield, Mo.-based Hood-Rich Architecture.
Often, convenience gaming venues are designed primarily with ease-of-use in mind. Such was the case with Casino Oklahoma, a Lenape Entertainment-owned 38,000-square-foot casino situated on 20 acres of Delaware Nation trust land. According to Architects in Partnership (AIP), the Norman, Okla.-based firm that worked on the project, Casino Oklahoma consists of a 21,000-square-foot gaming floor that houses approximately 600 slot machines, four black jack tables, four poker tables, and a high limit slot machine area. The front-of-house provides guests with a bar space, quick grab-n-go snack area, and a full-service dining restaurant. The building contains necessary back-of-house services required for full casino operation, including secure cashier and cage spaces, operational office suite, security check-in, gaming commission offices and a gaming surveillance suite. The understated design employed by AIP does manage to include a number of tribal and western motifs.