Although Native American casinos have weathered a very difficult time like the rest of the gaming industry, great leadership has them back open and offering a safe and entertaining experience for all
By Sean Chaﬃn
An old proverb from the Crow tribe notes: “You already possess everything necessary to become great. You don’t have to wait for anything to happen. You have everything you need right now to build your success step by step.”
A quick look at the tribal gaming industry over the last few decades shows that saying is certainly true. Native American casinos, hotels and other properties are not just a major part of the gaming industry but of the American economy as a whole, and ﬁnding plenty of success. Because of the industry, tribes are able to provide jobs, security, medical care, social welfare and other programs for their members. Today, the number of tribes oﬀering gaming continues to expand and reap rewards and accolades from customers. Native American casinos have become leaders in the industry with some tribes now even oﬀering gaming beyond their traditional borders and reservations. The industry has aided tribes in self-governing, self-suﬃciency and self-identity.
According to the American Gaming Association, the commercial gaming industry brought in record revenue of $53 billion in 2021, up 21% from 2019 when COVID-19 wasn’t an issue. Tribal properties’ numbers weren’t available yet at press time, but AGA oﬃcials projected that could reach another $40 billion. With the pandemic appearing to be in the rearview mirror for most of the country, the sky’s the limit for this segment of the American casino industry. Tribal leaders have much more planned in the coming year and here’s a quick look at what to expect.
GROWTH AND EXPANSION
Wild Horse Pass, Chandler, Arizona
Gila River Resorts and Casinos, owned and operated by the Gila River Indian Community, celebrated the completion of Wild Horse Pass Casino’s $180 million expansion in January. Players will ﬁnd a completely new look and amenities as well as the new Sunrise tower with 205 guest rooms, two new pools, event space, rooftop dining at the new Prime, A Shula’s Steak House, and much more.
The casino expansion also includes new high-energy live table games and a new BetMGM Sportsbook that overlooks the casino ﬂoor—perfect for a winning night with friends.
Yaamava’ Resort and Casino At San Manuel Highland, California
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians not only underwent a name change for this property, but also unveiled the results of a $760 million expansion that’s been underway for three years. The name change is a perfect way to encapsulate where the property is headed in the coming years, Tribal Chairman Ken Ramirez noted recently.
“In the Serrano language, the word ‘yaamava’ means the spring season,” he recently noted in the San Bernardino Sun newspaper. “‘Yaamava’ encapsulates our mission and vision.”
Just an hour from Los Angeles, the property now boasts a 432-room hotel, expanded casino, expansive pool with seven private cabanas, full-service spa, additional dining options, and much more. The top ﬂoor of the hotel even features an exclusive lounge with brilliant views of the San Bernardino Mountains. Even more is in the works with a 2,800-seat theater set to open later this spring.
Rolling Hills Casino and Resort, Corning, California
The Paskenta Band Of Nomlaki Indians got in on the expansion bandwagon in 2021 as well. The tribe’s Rolling Hills property increased the casino game space by 60,000 square feet and grew the event space another 30,000 square feet, bringing to a close a 15-month expansion project. Additions included a remodeled exterior and interior, complete hotel room upgrades, a new high- limit gaming area, four new restaurants and more.
The Nomlaki strive to build a sustainable future for their people and surrounding communities. The tribe is one of the top-three largest employers in Tehama County, and as a result of the expansion has employed more than 100 new team members in all departments of the property.
“We are excited to oﬀer our guests more entertainment and dining options,” Tribal Chairman Andrew “Dru” Alejandre said. “Most importantly, this expansion has allowed us to drive economic progress in the region through the creation of new jobs, which supports our tribe’s goal of building a sustainable future for our people and our surrounding communities. We are grateful for our tribal members, team members, community, and valued guests for their continued support.”
ilani Casino, Ridgeﬁeld, Washington
The Cowlitz Tribe celebrated four years of operating ilani in 2021 and announced some big expansion plans. The tribe is now building an on-site hotel that is expected to open in 2023. Visitors will ﬁnd a 14-story, 300- room glass-encased tower with four-diamond–level guest service and amenities, including a mix of room types and suites, a luxury spa, an indoor-outdoor pool experience, and a signature top-ﬂoor restaurant with views of the Paciﬁc Northwest mountains and rivers.
“The new hotel will be an important extension of the ilani experience, giving our guests the opportunity to make their trip a true getaway by immersing themselves in four-star quality service and luxurious amenities overnight,” ilani President and General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose said. “Our design team is skilled at respectfully incorporating elements of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s heritage, and the structure will serve as a beacon, drawing visitors from far and wide and generating economic activity for our entire region.”
Desert Diamond Casino, Tucson, Arizona
Big undertakings continue for this property owned and operated by the Tohono O’odham Nation, which also owns three other Arizona properties. The Desert Diamond Tucson underwent a signiﬁcant expansion in 2021, including the unveiling of the Monsoon Room in September. The former nightclub was transformed into a new gaming area oﬀering more than 140 slot machines with some of the newest games in Arizona. The renovation includes six new table games with craps and roulette now oﬀered as the property continues rolling out new games.
The Desert Diamond also opened new sportsbooks at its Sahuarita and West Valley locations in December through a new partnership with Kambi. The ﬁrst phase included betting kiosks located adjacent to the two properties’ sports bars and became some of Arizona’s only locally owned sports betting operations. The ﬁrst phase includes six betting kiosks with live over-the-counter service and an online sportsbook expected to be added soon.
Mohegan Gaming & Entertainmnet, Uncasville, Connecticut
Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) opened Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on March 25, 2021,making it the ninth property to join MGE’s portfolio, and the ﬁrst Native American casino to open in Las Vegas.
Formerly on the site of the old Hard Rock Hotel, Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas features 60,000 square feet of fully renovated casino space, over ﬁve acres of luxe upgraded outdoor space and pools, new world-class restaurants, lounges and bars, as well as 130,000 square feet of remodeled meeting, event and convention spaces.
The casino-resort features more than 650 slot machines and over 50 table games including favorites like blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps and Three-Card Poker. The Momentum Loyalty Program delivers maximum excitement with incredible rewards and beneﬁts from all of MGE’s properties. Members earn Momentum Dollars to spend on world-class dining, premium brand shopping, hotel stays, spa treatments, partner beneﬁts and more.
Connecticut approved sports betting in 2021 and MGE’s ﬂagship casino resort, Mohegan Sun, opened a new FanDuel Sportsbook in February, just in time for the Super Bowl. The 11,000-square- foot venue allows sports fans to bet on all the latest action and include a 140-foot video wall, 30 additional hi-resolution ﬂat screens, a mezzanine level, a full bar and more. Players will also ﬁnd 39 betting kiosks, 22 luxury seats and more. The Mohegan Tribe continues to be a gaming leader in the Northeast.
“We’re beyond excited about this new venue, which completely transforms Mohegan Sun’s old Race Book space into one of the largest and most dynamic FanDuel Sportsbooks in the United States,” Mohegan Sun President and General Manager Jeﬀ Hamilton said. “The all-new sportsbook, led by General Manager Brad Bryant, becomes the premier venue to wager on and catch a game while enjoying top-notch service inside an incredibly immersive atmosphere.”
NEW PROPERTIES & VENUES
The Cove, Turning Stone Resort Casino, Sylvan Beach, New York
The Oneida Indian Nation’s Turning Stone Casino is already a top-notch property and the tribe is now upping the ante with another interesting getaway destination. The Cove at Sylvan Beach is set to open in May in upstate New York and will oﬀer a great family-friendly lakeside vacation rental destination.
The Cove is located about 20 minutes from Turning Stone and an hour south of The Adirondacks, right on Oneida Lake. Visitors will ﬁnd 70 two- and three-bedroom cottages, each with its own personal pontoon boat to use for a guest’s entire stay. Lake lovers can water ski, go tubing, go ﬁshing, or simply throw out the anchor and relax on the lake. Additional amenities include 24-hour guest service, cottage ﬁre pits, a full-sized kitchen, private bedrooms, open-concept living/dining room areas, a guest-only heated in-ground pool, a playground and more. Guests can also rent bikes, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.
The $35 million project becomes a signiﬁcant expansion for the Oneida outside the tribe’s traditional casino location. Guests can expect a top-notch experience as they get out for some quality time in nature.
“The family fun experience of Sylvan Beach combined with The Cove’s wide breadth of amenities ensure guests will enjoy their vacations at a destination unlike anything else in Upstate New York,” Oneida Nation Enterprises CEO Ray Halbritter said. “We have meticulously designed this new property to ensure every inch of every cottage and every amenity is perfect for any size group wanting to ﬁnd the perfect summer getaway.”
Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort, Suquamish, Washington
The growth of sports betting continues around the country and this tribe got in on the action in February with the unveiling of a new FanDuel Sportsbook—just in time for the Super Bowl. Located just oﬀ the casino ﬂoor, the new 2,086- square foot venue features three live betting windows and 12 self-service betting kiosks. The property promises sports fans an incredible game-day atmosphere with wagering options available across all major events. Wind Creek Hospitality On Dec. 8, Wind Creek Hospitality announced it was found suitable for the south suburban casino license by the Illinois Gaming Board after presenting plans for Wind Creek Illinois in November to build a four-diamond casino in the heart of Southland, IL.
Wind Creek’s proposed development, located directly oﬀ I-80, near the border of northwest Indiana, would be the ﬁrst AAA Four-Diamond casino destination in Illinois or northern Indiana. The property would include a nearly 70,000-square-foot casino ﬂoor with more than 1,350 slot machines and 56 table games; a 15 800-square-foot entertainment center; a 35 000-square-foot conference and banquet facility; three restaurants, two bars and a skyline lounge; a 252-room luxury hotel with indoor pool and spa; climate-protected parking connected to the casino ﬂoor; and partnership with the nearby Ravisloe Country Club, oﬀering golf as an amenity for guests. The project is scheduled to open in 2023.
In other big news, Wind Creek Bethlehem announced an expansion for the Pennsylvania property on Feb. 22. Later this year, Wind Creek Bethlehem will be adding 35,000 square feet of meeting space, a high-end lobby bar, three luxurious ballrooms, 276 beautifully appointed guest rooms and premium amenities including a rooftop pool, luxury spa and custom art installations.
Hard Rock International, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Las Vegas
The Seminole continue to be a leader in the industry and are now bringing plenty of their gaming and hospitality expertise to the Vegas Strip. In December, the tribe gaming company, Hard Rock International (HRI), announced plans to purchase the operations of The Mirage from MGM Resorts International for $1.1 billion. The company plans to rock out a little more, with an iconic guitar- shaped hotel planned for the property and similar to the Hard Rock in Hollywood, FL.
“We are honored to welcome The Mirage’s 3,500 team members to the Hard Rock family,” Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen said. “When complete, Hard Rock Las Vegas will be a fully integrated resort welcoming meetings, groups, tourists and casino guests from around the world to its nearly 80-acre center-Strip location.”
The company also cleared up some naming confusion with another recent Las Vegas deal. Prior to 2020, HRI had no involvement with the Hard Rock Casino in Sin City. HRI purchased the licensing and naming rights for that property in May 2020.
Palms Casino, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Las Vegas
Another tribe is also making inroads in Las Vegas. Along with completing a massive expansion at its Yaamava’ Resort and Casino in California, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians acquired the oﬀ- Strip Palms Casino in May. The tribe has operated the Yaamava’ property for 35 years and Vegas expansion reﬂects a milestone for San Manuel. The Palms had been closed for over a year and is expected to reopen in the spring.
“Today represents an important step for the tribe and its longterm economic diversiﬁcation strategy,” Chairman Ken Ramirez said. “On behalf of the tribe, we are thankful for the opportunity to join a community that we have come to know and appreciate.” This is just a small sample of what America’s tribal gaming casinos are up to. Even more properties have big plans in the works and also continue with an important mission—serving their communities and people. From employment to medical needs to community programs, tribal casinos are more than just corporate entities, they are essential for so many tribal members. Both gaming and non-gaming amenities continue to expand across tribal lands in the U.S. and we will continue to report on them as news becomes available.
Sports Betting Brings Expansion Options for Tribal Gaming
Since the Supreme Court overturned a virtual ban on sports betting outside Nevada in 2018, states have quickly lined up to get in on the action. From retail betting to mobile wagering, legalization has reached breakneck speed over the last few years. Casinos are opening sportsbooks to meet the growing demand among sports bettors, and Indian properties have also been at the forefront of this.
Properties around the country have added sportsbooks to their properties and some have even struck deals with professional sports teams. Mobile betting has become a huge part of the sports betting landscape for operators and casinos alike. Nebraska and Ohio have also legalized and will be next up to bat after clearing regulatory hurdles. The Seminole in Florida struck a deal with the state for sports betting in 2021, but that issue now remains tied up in court.
There are even more states considering getting in on sports wagering, including some with a signiﬁcant tribal casino presence. Oklahoma legislators are currently considering legislation at the committee level. California could see a November initiative on the ballot asking voters to approve sports betting. That would bring another massive state into the mix and no doubt many tribal properties would look to get involved.
Minnesota is also considering legislation and would oﬀer those states another option for gamblers. The sports betting train seems to keep rolling along. Tribal casinos have gotten on board and in many cases are leading the way.
Foxwoods Announces Expansion, Gaming Plans to Mark 30th Anniversary
February was a special month for Foxwoods Resort Casino, longtime leader in the tribal gaming industry. The largest resort casino in the Northeast kicked oﬀ its 30th anniversary and plenty is planned for 2022 as part of the celebration. As a major aspect of the big year, Foxwoods oﬃcials announced several big initiatives including a new partnership, property expansion plans, and much more on the horizon.
Sitting in picturesque southeastern Connecticut, Foxwoods is owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. The property boasts seven casinos as well as AAA Four- Diamond hotels, a wide range of well-regarded restaurants, world-renowned spas, award-winning golf, theaters, retailers and more. The recent announcements will now bring guests even more world-class entertainment options.
“This year marks an incredible milestone for Foxwoods and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. Not only is it our 30th anniversary, but it is our most signiﬁcant year of evolution, innovation, and development for the property to date, and we’re just getting started,” Foxwoods’ President and CEO Jason Guyot said. “Since opening our doors three decades ago, we have aimed to exceed our guests’ expectations, and the future will see Foxwoods continue to trailblaze the integrated resort casino concept.”
Expansion and Renovation
When players visit Foxwoods, they’ll soon notice some nice changes. Plans call for some big additions, including something special for families. The new Great Wolf Lodge at the Mashantucket venue will oﬀer an industry-leading family indoor water park resort. The lodges oﬀer unique vacation getaways at several locations around the country. Great Wolf Lodge at Mashantucket will oﬀer families a wide array of family entertainment options and becomes a convenient year-round getaway. The entire facility is expected to open in 2024.
Even more is planned at the property. Players who enjoy the thrill of dobbing a winning card are also in luck. Foxwoods is adding even more to the excitement of high-stakes bingo with a brand- new hall opening in the spring. Located in what was the Festival Casino space, the new High Stakes Bingo Hall will oﬀer players more than 30,000 square feet of event space and more than 2,200 seats.
Plans also call for the new 75,000-square-foot Rainmaker Expo Center, oﬀering 75,000 square feet of meeting space for trade shows, corporate meetings, sporting events and other functions. The casino’s main entrance is also getting a facelift as part of the renovation plans and should oﬀer an impressive view as players head into the resort. Foxwoods’ property upgrades and renovations are expected to be unveiled this spring. These expansion announcements come on the heels of the resort’s recently opened premium DraftKings Sportsbook, a partnership with one of the country’s leading sports betting operators. Another DraftKings book will also open at Foxwoods El San Juan Casino in Puerto Rico later this year.
Anniversary Gaming and Charity Plans
Beyond the expansion plans, Foxwoods guests are in store for some nice gaming promotions as part of the 30th anniversary. That recently included giving away $30,000 a day to guests for anniversary week. The property also oﬀered the chance to win $200,000 in cash and prize giveaways and double bonus slot play on Friday. Much more is also in the works.
Since opening in 1992, Foxwoods has evolved as a leader in the hospitality industry and continues to work to improve the local community as well. To date, the property has employed thousands in the region and has provided more than $4 billion in slot revenue to the state. As part of the 30th anniversary celebrations, Foxwoods continues that legacy by donating $30,000 each month to charity throughout 2022. In February, United Way was a recipient of these funds.
“As we look ahead to the next chapter of Foxwoods, and as we continue to get better every year, I am proud to celebrate this milestone alongside The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Foxwoods team members, our beloved guests, and the local community,” Guyot said. “Today marks the beginning of a spectacular yearlong celebration, and we look forward to welcoming guests of all ages to experience the wonder of it all.”
Sean Chaﬃn is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and senior writer for Casino Player and Strictly Slots magazines. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions or email him at seanchaﬃ[email protected] for story assignments.