Oklahoma tribes hit jackpot

For the first few years of federally regulated American Indian gaming, Oklahoma's industry was a hodgepodge of smoke-filled bingo halls and smoke shops offering pull-tabs.
By Anthony Thornton Published: October 26, 2003
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For the first few years of federally regulated American Indian gaming, Oklahoma's industry was a hodgepodge of smoke-filled bingo halls and smoke shops offering pull-tabs.

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Their appearances may have been modest, but the profit margin wasn't -- and neither were the dreams.

Those dreams are materializing into multifaceted and multimillion- dollar complexes operated by the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes and under construction by Creeks and Cherokees.

Between 1998 and 2002, Indian gaming revenues nationally rose 42 percent, from $8.4 billion to $14.5 billion. During that period, the total number of federally regulated Indian gaming centers grew from 297 to 330, and the number of casinos earning at least $100 million a year increased from 23 to 41.

As recently as 1995, Oklahoma had 23 Indian gaming centers. Today, there are 82, making the state home to far more gaming operations than any other state.

That statistic is a bit misleading.

Connecticut, for example, has two regulated casinos, compared with Oklahoma's 82. The largest of Connecticut's two is called Foxwoods, the mecca of Indian gaming run by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe.

Foxwoods is made up of six casinos that house 6,700 slot machines and 350 table games, plus the world's largest bingo hall, all spread out over 315,000 square feet. More than 40,000 visitors come each day for the resort's gaming, its 1,400-bed hotel complex, its 24 restaurants and its three golf courses.

Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller jokes that all of Oklahoma's casinos could fit into Foxwoods.

Diversification plan
While no Oklahoma tribe can match the grandeur of the Foxwoods resort, some are trying to mimic its success:

In late July, the Chickasaw Nation unveiled a 110,000-square-foot casino at Thackerville, just north of the Texas border on Interstate 35.

With 500 employees and 1,100 electronic games, it's the state's largest casino. It also features a 600-seat theater for live entertainment, two restaurants and a food court. Three hotels, a golf course, a movie theater and a children's arcade are in the plans.


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