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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.
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.
The Cherokees plan to open a seven-story hotel, conference center and gaming complex within a year along U.S. 412 in Catoosa. It will include 150 hotel rooms and 80,000 feet of gaming space sitting next to a Perry Maxwell-designed golf course the tribe bought in 2001. The casino will employ 400 people.
Indian gaming classes|
What's the difference between Class II and Class III Indian gaming?
Class II games include bingo, pull tabs and electronic machines that feature one of those games. Oklahoma tribes' electronic games are based on bingo or pull tabs but can be converted by players to a slot machine-style format.
Class III games include
blackjack and Las
Vegas-type games such as
craps and roulette.
What determines whether a tribe can conduct Class II or III gaming?
A federally recognized
tribe can conduct Class II
gaming in any state where the
tribe has reservation land, as
long as it adopts a gaming ordinance approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission. Class III gaming
requires a compact between a
tribe and a state government.
The Choctaw Nation was the first tribe in Oklahoma to use gaming as a springboard for other tourism ventures, building a 40-room motel and restaurant next to its Durant casino in 1998.
The tribe hopes to keep up with the Chickasaws' Thackerville center by building a new casino and indoor sports complex at Durant. The old casino will be renovated for other uses, and the motel will double to 80 rooms.
The Osage Nation plans two new casinos totaling $9 million at Sand Springs and north Tulsa, and the Peoria Tribe recently said it will build a $5 million casino, complete with a 1,500-seat auditorium for concerts and boxing, near the Will Rogers Turnpike at Miami, OK.
So how much room for growth is left in Oklahoma's gaming industry?
A study conducted by the tribes in 2001 by Harvard University indicated total gaming revenues that year of $208 million.
Despite the major construction projects undertaken since then, room for expansion remains, although how much is anyone's guess, said Tracy Burris, head of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association.
For tribes lucky enough to have land near interstates or the Texas border, the room for growth is much greater.
For example, the Choctaw Nation has for years sent buses to Texas to bring gamblers north to its Durant casino.
The casino's clientele is 80 percent Texans, said the tribe's attorney, Bob Rabon.
Perhaps most telling might
be this statistic from the new
Chickasaw casino at Thackerville: Of the 133 cars in the
parking lot one recent morning, 118 bore Texas license
plates, the Dallas Morning