By Linda Miller
Slot machines and table games arguably are the biggest draw at Oklahoma casinos, but many have upped the stakes by offering luxury hotel rooms, top-notch entertainment, fine dining and spa treatments.
In late spring, the Firelake Grand Casino Resort in Shawnee will swing open the doors to a new 12-floor hotel, outdoor pool, spa, high-tech event center, Brazilian steak house and enlarged casino space. In December, Downstream Casino Resort in the far northeast corner of Oklahoma welcomed guests to its second hotel tower complete with luxury and hospitality suites, a spa and indoor pool.
WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, the second largest casino in the U.S., is adding two more high-rise hotels with completion expected on one this year. Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant opened its tower hotel and enlarged casino in 2010, and last year a new Gilley’s two-stepped across the Red River for its first location in Oklahoma.
In 2012, Hard Rock Casino & Hotel in Catoosa added a two-story, non-smoking area and early this year followed with a third hotel.
These casinos bill themselves as resorts, destinations that attract not only Oklahomans but regional visitors and others traveling America’s highways, and they’re betting the expansions continue to pay off.
With the opening of the Grand’s hotel and other new amenities, including a 9-hole golf course later this year, the casino will be transformed into an entertainment destination, said Brad Peltier, director of marketing and public relations. Guests can golf, enjoy fine dining, relax by the pool or at the spa, take in a live concert and try their luck at blackjack or the slots without leaving the property.
The Grand’s new event center will seat 2,500, twice as many as the former space, and allow the casino to bring in another tier of entertainment. “We didn’t have enough seats to have the names we’re going to have now,” Peltier said.
“The way we look at it, we offer entertainment. It goes beyond just a building stuffed with slot machines. There are only a handful of properties, including us, across Oklahoma that can say we’re truly a casino destination,” he said.
The Grand on Interstate-40 is owned and operated by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
On I-35, the Chickasaw Nation owns Riverwind Casino in Norman and WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, just a wink from the Texas state line. Northbound cars with Texas license plates often are two dozen deep as they leave the interstate at exit 1 and fill WinStar’s parking lots.
WinStar already has a hotel with 395 luxurious rooms and two more 500-room towers are under construction. When completed, all three will connect with the casino. More budget-minded accommodations are available at the Inn at WinStar, a 100-room hotel near the casino, as well as the WinStar RV Park for those who prefer to bring their accommodations with them.
Along with a buffet and several restaurants, including Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, WinStar offers two fine dining options, Capisce Ristorante Italiano and The Grill. Capisce opened in October and features home-style Italian cooking. The Grill is an American-style steak house.
The mega casino embraces an international theme, so as visitors go from one end to the other they pass through Paris, London, New York and other world-renowned cities. Scattered throughout are 6,800 electronic gaming machines and 122 table games.
Other amenities include Spa Habitat and WinStar Golf Course & Academy that features a 27-hole golf course, cutting-edge programs, putter fitting, practice studio, fitness room, PGA Tour stimulation studio, outdoor hitting bays and outdoor grass driving range.
One of its biggest weekday draws is the free senior breakfast on Wednesdays and Thursdays, complete with a live band. And there’s usually dancing.
“Our focus is on providing an entertainment experience for WinStar World Casino patrons that exceeds their expectations,” said Wayne McCormick, general manager. “While that includes offering top-level gaming options, we also strive to give patrons luxurious accommodations and services, popular music and comedy acts, late-night entertainment options in our new nightclub called Mist, unique dining options as well as recreational activities like golf or pampering in a spa. We understand our casino patron expects more than gaming, and we plan to anticipate and surpass their expectations.”
The Cherokee Nation owns 18 casinos in Oklahoma.
Both WinStar’s 3,500-seat concert venue and Choctaw Casino Resort’s 5,500-seat event center draw big-name entertainment, including Oklahoma country superstars Toby Keith, Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton.
Entertainment, luxury accommodations, spa treatments and dining options are more than a side note to these bigger casinos.
“Our guests are looking for an overall destination experience,” said Tammye Gwin, Choctaw’s senior director of gaming. “Here at Choctaw Casino Resort, we’re about the very best in gaming, but we’re also about offering our guests a unique, diverse experience, including great food options, a full-service spa, an award-winning hotel and live, world-class entertainment.”
Choctaw Casino offers a 220-room tower, along with the refurbished Choctaw Inn and Choctaw Lodge, 46 table games, 3,500 electronic games, Oka Spa, indoor and outdoor heated pools, gift shop, women’s clothing boutique, several restaurants and the 1832 Steakhouse. The casino is also home to the World Series of Poker.
“Our customers are looking for an experience that is closer to the Vegas-style experience with more gaming and the ability to stay and play longer, and that’s what we offer,” Gwin said.
Choctaw’s expansion has been good for the area, too. The resort hired an additional 1,000 employees who are largely from the Texoma area.
More than 250 miles northeast of Durant’s big attraction is Downstream Casino Resort, which recently opened Kappa Tower, a 152-room hotel, the Neé Spa and other new upscale amenities. The new tower sits next to Downstream’s original 222-room hotel.
The luxury and high-end extras were designed to enhance the attraction of Downstream and expand its reach beyond a 100-mile radius. Downstream, owned by the Quapaw tribe, is off I-44 where the Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri state borders meet.
“We already had a first-class hotel with first-class service,” said Steven Drewes, general manager. “So with the addition of Kappa Tower and the Neé Spa we are now offering a more well-rounded resort with a greater choice of rooms and fine amenities. Our guests definitely have something special to look forward to.”
Last September, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa opened a two-story, non-smoking gaming area with 500 additional electronic games, a poker room, 15 more table games, a food court and a media bar. A third hotel just opened, too, increasing the room count to 456.
Owned by the Cherokee Nation, Hard Rock offers nearly 2,600 electronic games, multiple dining options including McGill’s on 19, an upscale steakhouse on the hotel’s 19th floor, convention space and a theater-style event center where Jay Leno and Willie Nelson will perform in March. Add to that an art gallery, jewelry store, clothing store and a championship 18-hole golf course.
Other tribal casinos, and there are 116 in the state, have expanded at a slower pace or are at least looking at possibilities. Oklahoma’s casinos range from a few slots at a fuel stop to the second-largest in the country.
Sheila Morago, executive director of the Oklahoma Gaming Association, said she thinks there will be more expansions as the resort and destination concept becomes more popular in the state.
“They’re great staycations,” she said. “You don’t have to go far to get a little luxury in your life.”
So, with luxury hotel rooms, fine dining, massages, facials and superstar entertainment at several Oklahoma casino resorts, who needs Vegas?
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