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Oklahoma: Casino resorts prove good gamble

Courtesy Hard Rock Casino Tulsa

A rich American Indian heritage has led to a high-rolling industry in Oklahoma. The state is home to 106 gaming facilities operated by 33 tribes, including a number of luxury casino resorts built since 2005, when the state signed the first tribal gaming compact that allowed such facilities to be built.
With the addition of full-service casino resorts, gaming’s popularity has surged, and today, Oklahoma is second only to California in gaming revenue.

But Oklahoma’s casino resort scene has seen its shifts. Two years ago, the state’s first casino resort, Cherokee Casino Resort in Catoosa near Tulsa, became the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The new name came with a $155 million expansion that added 200 guest rooms to the existing 150, created new restaurants and lounges, and added casino space and meeting and convention space.

The resort’s 75,000 square feet of meeting space includes a 15,000-square-foot ballroom and a 2,700-seat multipurpose event center that opened in September 2010. Two meeting rooms overlook the Cherokee Hills 18-hole championship golf course.

“I can’t see meeting planners not wanting to come here,” said Stacy McKee-Redden, director of sales. “There is so much to do under one roof.”

Meeting space is on the first floor of the Hard Rock Hotel, with the exception of a 5,000-square-foot banquet room on the 18th floor.

“The Sky Room is not your typical banquet room,” said McKee-Redden.  “It has floor-to-ceiling windows with a beautiful view of Tulsa.”

The Hard Rock, already known for its music memorabilia, delivers a double dose of nostalgia in Oklahoma because of its location along Route 66.

Although it is a Hard Rock property, the resort is run by Cherokee Nation Entertainment.


Three years ago, the $300 million Downstream Casino Resort, operated by the Quapaw Tribe, opened in the tristate area of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas. The hotel and the casino are in Oklahoma, the pavilion and the concert area are in Kansas, and the golf course is in Missouri. The resort is just off Interstate 44.

The 12-story, 222-guest room hotel has three restaurants, a sports bar and a snack bar. There is 5,000 square feet of meeting space in five meeting rooms on the first floor and another 10,000 square feet in a pavilion with a stone fireplace next to the heated outdoor pool. The pavilion has its own kitchen.

“One of the pavilion’s most versatile features is that it offers automated open or enclosed sides,” said Windy Smith, sales manager.

“Ours is the nicest resort as far as luxury in a 60-mile radius.” said Smith. “We host all sorts of groups here, and we can do just about anything they can think of.”


The WinStar World Casino completed a major expansion two years ago, opening a 395-room hotel in Thackerville, just north of the Texas/Oklahoma border. It is Oklahoma’s largest casino and one of more than 50 businesses owned and operated by the Chickasaw Nation.

Large conventions make use of the casino’s Global Event Center, a 45,000-square-foot space that can be divided into as many as three meeting areas. The hotel also has about 5,000 square feet of space in breakout rooms that range from 650 to 1,000 square feet. For private dinners, a banquet room for 150 at WinStar golf course is an option.

The casino has hosted regional, state and national conferences; the Native American Rights Fund national conference; Bridgestone Corp.; Farm Bureau Insurance; and sporting events such as the National Football League and Professional Bull Riding.

The resort has eight restaurants and entertainment includes golf, a spa and concerts.
For those on a tight budget, WinStar offers 100 additional rooms at The Inn at WinStar, the resort’s original hotel.


Last year, the Choctaw Nation opened the final phase of a $300 million expansion of the Choctaw Casino Resort Hotel and Conference Center in Durant, Okla., 100 miles north of Dallas.

The project included a 330-room hotel tower; 100 additional guest rooms in the original Choctaw Inn; a conference center with more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space; a separate event center that seats 3,500 for sponsored events, auto shows and concerts; and a 175-seat amphitheater.

“It is a magnificent resort facility,” said John O’Hearn, sales manager for Choctaw Casinos and Resort.

O’Hearn, a former Hyatt Hotel executive, made the move to the Choctaw less than a year ago. “When I took the grand tour, I said, ‘This is as good as Las Vegas.’”

The resort has nine restaurants, a full-service spa, three retail outlets, a stand-alone fitness center, a pool and a 77-pad Kampgrounds of America recreational vehicle park.

“The lobby features a big white buffalo, which represents good spirits or luck,” said O’Hearn. The resort’s Diamondback Lounge features serpent-inspired architecture.

The conference center is between the resort’s two casinos, with a 4,400-square-foot ballroom and 12 meeting rooms. A few steps out the door is the pool and the amphitheater. An additional room with a balcony, suited for receptions of up to 140, is on the second floor of the inn overlooking the pool.