Any doubt that the tribal casino segment of the North American gaming marketplace is still very much in a growth phase was likely alleviated last month when the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) released the fiscal year (FY) 2016 gross gaming revenue statistics for 244 federally recognized tribes across 29 states.

Indeed, these numbers were nothing short of impressive, with gaming tribes generating a record $31.2 billion in gross gaming revenue, a 4.4 percent increase of FY2015 numbers. It was the seventh year in a row of year-over-year gross gaming revenue increases for the tribal market as a whole.

The NIGC statistics also showed this revenue growth was spread across all Indian gaming jurisdictions. Not surprisingly, the region around Sacramento, Calif. reported the largest gross gaming revenue increase in FY2016, growing 6.3 percent. Other regions reporting substantial yearly revenue upticks included Oklahoma City, Okla. (5.7 percent), Portland, Ore. (5.1 percent), Phoenix, Ariz. (4.4 percent), Tulsa, Okla. (4.0 percent), Washington, D.C. (3.8 percent) and St. Paul, Minn. (1.1 percent). Gross revenue was also evenly distributed between large and small properties; of the $31.2 billion in gross revenue, 57 percent was generated by facilities producing less than $25 million per year. At least when it comes to Indian gaming, the rising economic tide is truly lifting all boats.

The continuous and diverse nature of this revenue growth may also explain the seemingly unceasing renovation and expansion activity currently gripping Indian Country, where large and small tribal gaming facilities across the nation are busily improving their appearance, adding gaming and non-gaming amenities, or both. What follows is a rundown of some recent or ongoing renovation and expansion projects that are changing the face of tribal gaming.

MOHEGAN SUN

Uncasville, Conn.-based Mohegan Sun, owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, is in the midst of a multi-million dollar revamp initiated last year. The project includes several stages of renovations for the property’s original 1,200-room Sky Tower, and opening of the brand new Earth Tower last fall. The Earth Tower brought 400 hotel rooms to Mohegan Sun’s riverfront property.

Recently, Mohegan Sun opened its renovated Sun Terrace Pool and introduced the resort’s first outdoor food and drink experience at the Bean and Vine Terrace. According to press materials, guests can experience comfort and relaxation in the new cabanas at the Sun Terrace Pool, located on the third floor of the Sky Tower. Each cabana comfortably seats ten people, comes with a television, mini-refrigerator and towels, and features sturdy shutters around the perimeter providing both sun protection and privacy for guests. Meanwhile, The Bean and Vine Café & Wine Bar, located in Mohegan Sun’s recently opened Earth Tower, is the first al fresco casual grill spot at the resort.

Another recent addition to Mohegan Sun’s non-gaming amenity lineup is the Mandara Spa. Located in the Earth Tower, Mandara Spa is a 2,800-square-foot boutique healing house, designed exclusively for massage and facial therapies. The seven-room refuge features a couple’s suite, six dual-use rooms, waiting lounge, and retail area.

Also in the mix for the resort is an $80 million Exposition & Convention Center to be located near the Winter Entrance of Mohegan Sun. When completed in 2018, the 131,000-square-foot Mohegan Sun Expo Center will feature a 21,412-square-foot ballroom, divisible into two and featuring over 3,000 square feet of pre-function space; 18 meeting rooms in total, ranging from 360 square feet to 675 square feet; a 1,263-square-foot boardroom with 230 square feet of pre-function space and its own outdoor terrace; a 5,361-square-foot kitchen; six loading docks and free parking.

On the design front, the new Expo Center will be a column-free structure with clerestory windows, offering flexible programming within a naturally-lit space. Designed by New York City-based Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the main circulation spine that connects the exposition hall to the pre-function area also provides access to the overall facility, including the ballroom and adjustable meeting rooms.

PECHANGA RESORT & CASINO

Much like Mohegan Sun, Temecula, Calif.-based Pechanga Resort & Casino, a privately operated business of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, is undergoing a massive, multi-phase expansion. The $285 million project, scheduled to be complete later this year, involves adding a new, AAA Four Diamond, 568-room and suite hotel wing; a standalone luxury two-story spa and salon with 17 treatment rooms, a fitness center and hydrotherapy pool terrace; a resort-style pool complex with eight pool areas; two new restaurants; and an additional 67,000 square feet of event space. When completed, Pechanga Resort & Casino will be comprised of a 200,000-square-foot casino; a combined 274,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and convention space; 1,090 hotel rooms; 13 restaurants; 13 pools and spas; 18-hole golf course and concert theater.

The team responsible for the look and design of the renovation includes Delawie architects, the original designers of Pechanga Resort & Casino when it was built in 2002; Lifescapes International, which is building the four-acre pool complex; builder Tutor Perini; and interior aesthetics firm CLEO Design.

Earlier this year, Pechanga Resort & Casino opened its new East Parking Garage adjacent to the casino/resort property, the first phase of Pechanga’s $285 million resort expansion to be completed. According to a press release, the five-level, 2,400-space garage offers the latest-available wayfinding systems and electric vehicle charging stations. Electronic sensors on each floor communicate available spaces to lights above each stall, and to space counter boards for greatest ease of use. These additions help cut down the time guests spend circling for available spots. Forty-four electric vehicle charging stations can be found on first floor with three of them available exclusively for Tesla vehicles. Pechanga Resort & Casino parking areas now feature a total of 57 EV charging stations.

International Parking Design was responsible for the look of the new garage, which features natural-looking rock walls that tie in the décor of other areas of the resort, lush landscaping around its perimeter and European-style planter boxes hung from each of the five levels to face Pechanga Parkway. McCarthy Building Companies was the contractor for this project.

With the new garage, Pechanga now offers 11,209 parking spaces for its resort/casino patrons.

In addition to the garage opening, ground was also broken for an expansion to Pechanga’s popular RV Resort, which is located adjacent to the resort property. Faced with 100 percent occupancy in its current 168-space facility every weekend and many weeks through the year, Pechanga management decided to add 41 additional luxury RV spaces, enhanced pool amenities, easier and more personalized check-in and more outdoor recreation areas.

VIEJAS CASINO & RESORT

Another California tribal property undergoing an expansion is Alpine, Calif.-based Viejas Casino & Resort, which is owned by the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. Under the design oversight of Minneapolis, Minn.-based Cuningham Group Architecture, the expansion will feature a new tower, a wide range of new amenities and renovations to the casino, hotel and bus depot.

The improved casino will consist of a new gaming floor, renovation to the existing gaming floor, and four new venues: a signature restaurant, Asian restaurant, center bar and coffee bar. The hotel includes 159 new hotel suites, a new spa with a salt-water whirlpool and two treatment cabanas, and a new exterior pool with beach entry and an exterior pool bar. The bus depot features a new five-stall bus depot to allow for relocation of the current bus drop, which will clear space for the casino expansion. In addition, more terminal space will be added, doubling as a V-Club for guests.

The design-build renovation/expansion project, which is being accomplished with the help of Swinerton Builders, topped out recently and is expected to open in 2018.

SEMINOLE HARD ROCK HOTEL & CASINO TAMPA

While some tribal properties undergo expansion, Florida-based Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa was able to celebrate the phase one completion of its rebuild with the recent openings of a new poker room, Mezzanine Level Casino, smoke-free gaming area and parking garage.

According to press materials, the state-of-the art, 46-table, non-smoking poker room features Wi-Fi throughout and has the sports fan in mind, with over 40 TVs sprinkled throughout the facility.  High-stakes players now have a new high-limit lounge featuring two VIP tables.

The high-end, art deco inspired, Mezzanine Level Casino covers more than 26,000 square feet and offers 500 of the newest slot machines featuring the latest technology as well as 15 live-action table games. The new space contains approximately 14,000 square feet of Italian marble which is meant to provide a luxurious atmosphere for guests. Irvine, Calif.-based Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG) oversaw the design work at the Mezzanine Level Casino.

The smoke-free gaming area features over 850 of the newest and most popular slot machines. Located on the bottom floor of the Mezzanine Level Casino, it has doubled in size and has a dedicated smoke-free entrance, smoke-free bar with video poker, dedicated cage and player’s club, as well as a dedicated Uber drop off and pick up area with direct access from the surface parking lot.

OTHER PROJECTS TO NOTE…

  • Lawton, Okla.-based Apache Casino Hotel recently unveiled a new 1,200-seat Event Center, including 1,936 square feet of suite seating. According to project architects, Henderson, Nav.-based Bergman, Walls & Associates, the design for this facility was inspired from the Oklahoma countryside. To create the interior space, BWA incorporated elements inspired by organic earth countryside and combined it with a modern, contemporary exterior design using clean lines to complement the existing casino and the local region.
  • San Diego, Calif.-based Sycuan Casino has started construction on its $226 million expansion. The project includes not only an expansion of the gaming floor and available player positions, but also provides several program and amenity enhancements to the property, according to a press release.
  • The Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians have broken ground on a new casino resort to replace the current Soboba Casino in San Jacinto, Calif. The modern, expansive gaming, hospitality, and entertainment complex will feature an 83,500 square foot casino floor with 2,000 slot machines and 24 table games, surrounded by eateries, bars, a sports lounge, a high limit room and many other indoor and outdoor amenities.