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Winning Architecture: 10 Native-Owned Casinos With Stunning Cultural Design, Part 1

Looking to get away and enjoy some of the best of gaming, and an authentic cultural experience, check out a Native-owned casino or resort.

In the gaming world, much emphasis is placed on potential. Facilities often tout numbers of slot machines, table games and average winnings. A Native-owned casino and resort tends to combine state-of-art gaming options with stunning architecture and design, offering guests the best of gaming, and an authentic cultural experience, here are 10 that ICTMN found.

Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino; Niagara Falls, New York

Owned by the Seneca Nation, this 26-story hotel and casino near Niagara Falls is infused with Native references, said Rob Chamberlain, senior vice president of design and construction.

The tower, topped with a single feather pointed straight upward, announces to visitors their arrival into Seneca Country. A motif of rolling hills appears on the tower’s glass façade, signifying Seneca’s place as the “People of the Great Hill.”

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Cultural references continue inside the facility, Chamberlain said. Those include symbols in the stonework, restaurant names that reflect the Seneca heritage and artwork displayed throughout.“It is very important to the people of the Seneca Nation that our guests get a feel for the long and proud history, culture and heritage of the Seneca Nation,” Chamberlain told ICTMN.

Courtesy Seminole Hard Rock Hotel Casino

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino; Hollywood, Florida

The Hard Rock brand may be prominently featured on this 140,000-square-foot Native-owned casino, but the Seminole Tribe of Florida has found ways to incorporate cultural design into the accompanying resort.

Visitors to the pool can find shade in chickee huts, the traditional Seminole shelters found in the Everglades. The huts, made from local tree trunks and palm fronds, have thatched roofs, raised floors and open sides.

“They were used in camps as the Seminole fled from U.S. soldiers who were trying to ship them off to Oklahoma,” said Gary Bitner, spokesman for Seminole Tribe of Florida. “Now they are glamorous, with wide-screen TVs, furniture, refrigerators, everything you need pool-side. But frankly, among the guests there is a positive response to learning the chickees are traditional Seminole homes.”

Courtesy Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee, N.C.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort; Cherokee, North Carolina

A natural creek runs through this 56-acre property owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, separating the casino and the 1,100-room hotel.

Inside, rooms are decorated with woodcarvings, sculptures and paintings that depict Cherokee legends, said Ray Rose, regional VP of resort operations. The interior design also includes subtle symbols and patterns derived from the culture.

The exterior design is less subtle, Rose said. Inspired by the surrounding landscape, the facility reflects the Cherokee reverence for nature. “On the outside, it’s designed to really have a strong correlation to the beautiful mountains,” Rose said. “The colors, designs, even the roof-lines mirror the mountain ridge lines behind it.”

Courtesy Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort Hotel

Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort Hotel in Worley, Idaho.

Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort Hotel; Worley, Idaho

The Coeur D’Alene Tribe points to its “welcome home philosophy” as a winning feature of this woodsy Native-owned casino resort.

“One of our biggest things is our tribal hospitality,” said Quanah Matheson, cultural affairs director for the Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort. “We’re welcoming people into our home and giving them a piece of our love.”

The facility capitalizes on this sense of home, Matheson said. It includes an interpretive center; restaurants that serve locally caught fish, wild game and berries; and an award-winning golf course named after Circling Raven, a Coeur D’Alene chief who prophesied of coming hardships.

Surrounded by countryside, this facility showcases natural beauty and tribal history at every turn, Matheson said. Architects designed the buildings to mimic the traditional longhouse structure and to let in as much of the outdoors as possible.“People are surrounded by the natural things: birds, trees, prairies, lakes,” he said. “It’s about making people comfortable by bringing the natural beauty indoors so they’re surrounded by rock and wood, even inside.”

Courtesy Prairie Band Casino Resort

Prairie Band Casino & Resort in Mayetta, Kan.

Prairie Band Casino & Resort; Mayetta, Kansas

This prairie meadow casino is off the beaten path in rural Kansas. Owned by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, this destination bills itself as “having all the amenities of a five-star resort, but in the middle of Kansas,” said marketing director Anthony Bertino.

In addition to more than 1,100 slot machines and a 300-room hotel, the property also boasts considerable Native connections, Bertino said. For example, hotel suites are named after the bands of Potawatomi Indians and artwork abounds throughout the Native-owned casino and hotel.

But the most obvious ties to Potawatomi culture can be found in the exterior design, Bertino said. “I think foremost, we’re in the prairie, so we have this rock prairie architecture,” he said. “And we have traditional fireplaces everywhere.”

Grand Casino Mille Lacs; Onamia, Minnesota

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe owns two gaming facilities in Minnesota. Grand Casino Hinckley is perhaps best known for its stunning, 563-room hotel, while Grand Casino Mille Lacs showcases beautiful, Native-themed architecture that capitalizes on the natural environment.

Built on the west shore of Lake Mille Lacs in Central Minnesota, Grand Casino Mille Lacs is situated on a north-south axis. The building’s front faces east, observing the sun as it rises over the trees and lake, said Mike Nickaboine, vice president of facilities.

“As the sun sets in the west at the back elevation of the complex, beautiful scenes emerge as the sun settles below the oaks,” he said.

The property, designed to reflect nature, also includes décor that mimics traditional Ojibwe dance regalia and architectural features that represent the “curve and meander” of water flowing in a river, Nickaboine said.

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Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort; Suquamish, Washington

Seven stories up, on top of this 185-room hotel overlooking Puget Sound, is a luxurious suite built for viewing eagles. This Eagle’s View Suite is a favorite for Rich Purser, general manager of the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort, because it represents the unsurpassable natural beauty and the tribal ties to the environment.

The entire property is designed as a northwest lodge, Purser said, nestled among the evergreens and against the sapphire blues of the ocean. “The whole thing is built to maximize the view,” he said. “People come for the casino, but every time they turn a corner they see the view.”

Hotel rooms, dining areas and even the swimming pool are flanked by huge glass windows, Purser said. Outdoor terraces, amphitheaters and fire pits also bring visitors close to nature.

“We’ve tried to design it so every room has a view,” he said.

Courtesy Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort

Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort in Suquamish, Wash.

Buffalo Thunder Casino Resort; Santa Fe, New Mexico

Literally every design aspect of this adobe-style casino and resort reflects the culture of the Pueblo of Pojoaque, spokeswoman Christine Windle said.

Former Pueblo Governor George Rivera named this 587-acre resort after a bank of clouds that formed near the property and resembled a herd of buffalo, Windle said. Exterior design pulls from traditional pueblo architecture and the interior features vibrant desert hues, tribal accents and traditional carvings.

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Located about 15 miles north of New Mexico’s capital city, every room in this facility boasts spectacular views of the countryside. The resort is also home to more than $2 million in Native artwork.

Courtesy Buffalo Thunder Casino Resort

Buffalo Thunder Casino Resort in Santa Fe, N.M.

Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino; Chandler, Arizona

This Native-owned casino and hotel, located just off I-10 on the Gila River Indian Reservation, was designed with one thing in mind: water.

“Gila River Indians are known for water, for the network of rivers and streams,” casino spokeswoman Melody Hudson said. “Everything you see here encompasses the water theme.”

Visitors to the casino are welcomed with a sculpture comprising an assembly of glass bulbs designed to look like large drops of water, Hudson said. Inside, artwork depicts the tribe’s relationship with water, and walls are painted in hues of blue and green.

Outside, a lighted water feature resembles a river on top of the building. There’s even a manmade stream at the front of the property. “We really wanted to create a feeling of water,” Hudson said. “We wanted a modern feel, but also the traditional elements.”

Courtesy Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino

Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler, Ariz.

Odawa Casino Resort; Petoskey, Michigan

There’s no question this 300,000-square-foot resort in northern Michigan is Native.

Visitors are welcomed to the facility by a portico designed to look like an enormous upside-down canoe. Thick columns supporting the portico represent teepee poles, and the nearby fine-dining restaurant resembles a giant drum.

Inside, the décor reflects Native design and print. It also includes lots of windows and a glass rotunda designed to capture natural light.

Courtesy Odawa Casino Resort

Odawa Casino Resort in Petoskey, Mich.

The result, said Barry Laughlin, director of property operations, is a facility that is at once modern and comfortable, but also unmistakably Native. “Generally when you see Native casinos, you can take one look and see they’re Native,” he said. “We wanted to have a modern feel, something that was comfortable to guests, but that still had subtle Native design.”

This story was originally published May 31, 2015.