THACKERVILLE — The Chickasaw Nation's WinStar casino in southern Oklahoma has begun construction to transform itself into a destination casino with a 400-room hotel, a convention center and a doubling of gaming space.
WinStar plans to have the casino and convention center expansion complete by fall 2008. The 11-story hotel — to be owned and operated by a Chicago company on adjacent non-Indian land to the east — should be finished by 2009, tribal officials said.
The expansion is expected to bring 1,100 more jobs to the casino on Interstate 35 in Thackerville. About 1,200 people work there now.
"We're really excited about creating this great opportunity for the tribe and creating a unique experience for our customers,” said Brian Campbell, administrator for the tribe's commerce division. "As we progress, it will also be good for the state of Oklahoma through additional revenue from the gaming compact.”
Brad Fortner, chief development officer, said a facade will be added to the existing tent-like structure for the casino. The facade will continue along the east side and wrap around the north side of an expanded steel structure to create a unified look in the style of a Tuscan city.
"It will integrate the solid building with the soft structure so they work seamlessly,” Fortner said. "It will have a long, cityscape feel to it and change the perspective of what people see when they come up.”
A new experience
Inside the expansion will be five new casinos in the style of world capitals ranging from London and Paris to Rome, Madrid and Beijing, Fortner said. In addition to new restaurants, a multi-function convention and event center will seat 2,500 people and can be split into three rooms. Another eight breakout rooms will seat between 30 and 40 people each, he said.
Campbell said Chicago-based Gaming Capital Group will own and operate an adjoining hotel that is expected to employ 100 people.
"Our facility will join with theirs so you can walk directly from the casino to the hotel,” Campbell said. "Our systems will also work together so they can enjoy gaming and a great hotel.”
Fortner said the tribe also plans to build a 150-space RV park between its existing Microtel motel and its 18-hole golf course, which opened last summer. Meanwhile, the second phase of an access road expansion will start later this year. That will extend the road from Microtel down to I-35's Exit 1, he said.
The new WinStar will overtake Riverwind, the Chickasaws' sister casino south of Norman, as the state's largest tribal gaming facility. When the expansion is complete, WinStar will have 6,000 electronic gaming machines and encompass 300,000 square feet. It currently has 2,100 machines in 190,000 square feet.
The Chickasaws' expansion in southern Oklahoma represents another salvo in the battle with Louisiana to draw Texans to casinos.
Drivers on both sides of the Red River are bombarded with billboards advertising either WinStar or any number of Louisiana casinos in the Shreveport-Bossier City area.