The Bigger Pot: Cherokees Earn Big, Share the Wealth

Courtesy Cherokee Nation Hard Rock Tulsa added a new 10-story hotel tower (right) in March 2013.

Indian Country Today

The Bigger Pot: Cherokees Earn Big, Share the Wealth

The Cherokee Nation owns and operates eight gaming facilities in Oklahoma—located in the cities of Roland, Catoosa, West Siloam Springs, Tahlequah, Fort Gibson, Sallisaw and Ramona—and the Will Rogers Downs racino in Claremore. Through its gaming arm Cherokee Nation Entertainment, the tribe employs more than 3,500 people and offers over 6,200 electronic games and 80 card and table games.

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That roster is continuously expanding, particularly in the wake of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees’ Tahlequah casino shutting down. After UKB casino officials exhausted all legal options to take their casino land into trust, the gaming facility shuttered on August 30. In the wake of the casino’s closure, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker announced that Cherokee Nation Entertainment would offer employment to workers displaced as a result.

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“Welcoming our Keetoowah brothers and sisters with open arms is simply the right thing to do,” Baker said, emphasizing that Cherokee Nation Entertainment officials are working diligently to minimize any disruption in pay for UKB casino employees.

“The most important thing is that these innocent workers who may be displaced are still able to provide for their families,” Baker said. “We want to calm any fears they may have and let them know we will do everything in our power to make sure any transition is as smooth as possible.”

State Contributions

Under its Class III gaming compact, the Cherokee Nation shares its revenues with the state of Oklahoma. Last year, the tribe proudly announced it had surpassed the $100 million mark, having paid the state a total of $101,033,303 from January 2005 to December 2011, the Cherokee Phoenix reported.

Increasing revenues for both the tribe and its partners involves investment and expansion. Most recently, in March 2013, the tribe finished construction on a new 10-story tower at its Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa. The tower replaces an area that was lost in the ­record-breaking blizzard in February 2011. The new tower adds 100 suites to the resort, bringing the total room count to 454 rooms and suites. The property additionally includes a seven-story and a 19-story tower.

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The new hotel completes a $52 million expansion project that also included 500 additional electronic games, 15 more table games, a poker room, a media bar and a food court.

“The addition of this tower puts us years ahead of the competition and continues our draw as the premier gaming destination in northeast Oklahoma,” said Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. “This addition will also help increase revenue, which means more money generated for Cherokee Nation services that improve the lives of our citizens.”

Now Hard Rock officials plan to begin $2.5 million in renovations to the property’s original seven-story hotel tower that has 148 rooms; the slated completion date is end of 2013.

“The original tower has provided our guests lodging since 2004, so it’s time for a face-lift,” said Jon Davidson, senior director of hospitality for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. “The current plan is to renovate the rooms floor by floor. We will update the theme, blending a little Hard Rock, but maintaining the strong Cherokee culture and art that currently exists in this tower, while the other two towers have more of a Hard Rock feel to them.”