As the casino industry evolves, Indian country is staying two steps ahead of the game. From developing a $5 billion casino in South Korea to debuting the first “smart casino” through a Virtual Slot Environment, tribes took expansion and innovation to new heights in 2016.
Check out the five biggest gaming trends of the year.
Looking Beyond State and Country Borders
International and out-of-state gaming expansions were popular among tribes in 2016. From Mohegan Sun’s venture in South Korea to the New Mexico-based Laguna Pueblo’s purchase of a commercial casino in Louisiana, tribes looked far beyond traditional borders this year.
In March, the South Korean government awarded the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority a licensing agreement to develop the world’s first and only destination resort with an adjacent private air terminal. Project Inspire, near South Korea’s Incheon International Airport, is located 30 miles west of Seoul. The project is estimated to cost $5 billion.
South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, hopes to emulate the Macau and Singapore gaming markets, attracting more Chinese tourists who currently make up more than a third of visitors to South Korea.
In other international news, the Seminole Tribe purchased the global rights to the Hard Rock brand, giving the tribe the right to develop in Australia, Brazil, Israel, Venezuela and Vancouver.
Domestically, the Laguna Pueblo purchased a $134.5 million commercial, riverboat casino in Louisiana. Kicks Entertainment, LLC, formed by Laguna Development Corporation, the tribe’s economic development arm, bought the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel Lake Charles, including its 50,000-square-foot riverboat casino, a 493-room hotel, various food and beverage outlets, covered parking and other amenities.
Also within the U.S., the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma sought to pursue gaming opportunities in Arkansas. The tribe invested $6 million in the Arkansas Wins initiative that ultimately failed — but who knows what 2017 will bring.
Pursuing Sports Betting and eSports
Legal issues surrounding fantasy sports, a multi-billion dollar industry, led by companies like FanDuel and DraftKings, was a hot topic among gaming tribes in 2016.
“What the tribes have a problem with is that (the bill) would allow anyone who is capable to run a DFS game to come into the state and be licensed. If gambling is indeed a Class III or Las Vegas-style activity, then tribes are the only ones who have the constitutional right to be able to offer those games,” Jacob Coin, Hopi, executive director of the Office of Public Affairs for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, previously told ICMN.
Nevertheless, two tribes entered the eSports market this year.
The California-based Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians teamed up with the Canadian League of Gamers to create a North American professional eSports League in 2016. “eSports is exploding with interest and becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the world,” Greg Spievak, co-founder of the Canadian League of Gamers, said.
“Building Southern Arena as a world class professional eSports League is the first of its kind for the 486 Indian gaming operations in the US. Being on the cutting edge of the eSports movement will benefit not only the Tribe and its members, but more importantly build on the Coachella Valley brand as the capital of entertainment and hospitality in the United States,” said Darrell Mike, Tribal Chairman for the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians.
The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe also joined on the eSports playing field. Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures (MLCV) developed a daily fantasy sports website, Granfantasysports.com, this year. The site is currently open to customers 18 years of age or older who are legal residents and physically located in one of the following states: California, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, or Wisconsin.
The platform was designed by EZFantasy, created by 2020 Casino Solutions, an MLCV company. EZFantasy is a member of the Small Businesses of Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Transactions including secure deposits and withdrawals through the cash-payout site are handled via PayPal. Live scoring and detailed player stats are managed by Sportradar US.
Upping the Ante With High-End Casino Gas Stations & Convenience Stores
Tribes are making visiting Indian casinos easier for guests with state-of-the-art convenience and gas stations nearby.
The Gun Lake Tribe is building a 24/7 fuel, convenience and dining station on tribal trust land in Wayland, Michigan, located at the entrance to Gun Lake Casino. The modern-design, $4.4 million, 6,700-square-foot facility will be staffed by 22 employees and include a SUBWAY Restaurant.
Meanwhile the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe is bringing more than just a convenience store and gas station to the Puget Sound region of Washington State. The 12-pump station and store will offer a deli, market, beer cave and drive-up window for tobacco. The splashier venue will ultimately replace the neighboring Snoqualmie Tobacco Company and Liquor Store, which will remain open during construction. The new offering is situated near the tribe’s gaming attraction Snoqualmie Casino, which is Seattle’s closest casino boasting 1,700 slots games, 50-plus gaming tables, poker room, live entertainment and fine dining.
Attracting Millennials With ‘Smart’ Casinos
One of the most contemplated topics in the gaming industry in 2016 was how do casinos attract millennials and occupy them on the gaming floor?
Millennials are still flocking to casino resorts, but spending their money at its nightclubs and restaurants, sometimes wagering on sports or placing the occasional bet at table games. Slot machines are like antiquated desktop computers to them — they simply don’t waste their time.
Part of the answer to encouraging millennials to gamble is “gamifying” slots, according to some industry leaders like Gamblit Gaming. To appeal to millennials, companies need to add skill and social elements to the mix — by taking advantage of skill-chance hybrid games.
Imagine: LED lights begin to flash and the casino audio system announces an impending jackpot, plus a special, bonus event. Patrons flock to this Virtual Slot Environment, or VSE, area to partake in an immersive, 4D experience called Cash of the Titans at Seven Feathers Casino Resort, owned and operated by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians in Canyonville, Oregon.
Cash of the Titans, a sensory revolution in gaming, is the first of its kind in the world. The VSE connects to player tracking systems (via back-end gaming systems), and awards real time bonuses to active players based upon the parameters casino management selects. Seven Feathers is the first casino to employ the VSE system, thus qualifying it as the first “smart casino” of the future.
Next year will reveal just how effective these interactive games are at drawing and engaging younger generations at casinos.
Leaning In: Tribes Are ‘Buying Indian’ and Collaborating With Other Tribes
The Kaw Nation demonstrated its dedication to Native-to-Native business and hiring Native in 2016. The tribe utilized Native-owned businesses whenever possible for goods and services at its SouthWind Casino in Newkirk, Oklahoma. The tribe’s efforts promote economic growth and sustainability across Indian country. For its leadership in tribal gaming and efforts to “buy Indian”, Kaw Gaming, Inc. was honored with a Tribal Gaming Visionary award by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development in May.
In other news, the operator of the Mohegan Sun properties began overseeing the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe’s gaming, hospitality and entertainment consulting service in late April. The Tunica-Biloxi Gaming Authority (TBGA), the tribe’s unincorporated governmental agency, owns and operates the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, Louisiana. The authority retained the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority — the enterprise credited with advancing the once-struggling Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, into record profitability over the four years that is has served under its management and investment contract.
The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (MTGA) operates two of the most successful gaming and entertainment destinations in the United States, Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and Mohegan Sun Pocono in Pennsylvania.
MTGA’s venture with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe of Washington State will introduce the $500 million casino project that will be the West Coast’s premier gaming, dining, entertainment and meeting destination slated to open in 2017.