An expansion project is underway at the Choctaw Nation's casino resort in Durant. The project will add 1,000 rooms, making it the state's largest casino in terms of hotel room count. Journal Record reporter Molly Fleming discusses the building's design and how the casino has driven development in southeast Oklahoma.
Katelyn Howard: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Katelyn Howard, and with me is Journal Record reporter Molly Fleming. It's great to have you here today, Molly.
Molly Fleming: Thanks for having me. It's been a while so I'm glad to be back.
Howard: Today, I'd like to talk about one of your recent stories about how construction has begun on an expansion project at the Choctaw Nation's casino resort in Durant. The expansion will add 1,000 rooms, totaling 1,800. This will make it the state's largest casino in terms of hotel room count. Can you tell me more about this?
Fleming: Absolutely. Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said the expansion has been needed since the tribe expanded the property in 2015. But the tribe doesn't build its projects on debt so it waited until it had the money to consider the expansion. The additions will sit south of the existing property. The new property will have room for about 3,500 games, including ball and dice. The tribe is also expanding its pool area. Chief Batton said it will be a large, lazy river type area, but not an amusement park. It will open in spring 2021.
Howard: Since the resort is located close to Lake Texoma and Oklahoma's southern border, you write that it has a big customer base from Texas, which played a role in the building's design.
Howard: Yeah. So JCJ Architecture Lead Designer Bob Gdowski said he looked at the existing buildings at the resort and the Dallas skyline for the building's aesthetic. It will sit along U.S. Highway 75, which is the road that brings Texans into south Oklahoma. The building will be constructed by Las Vegas based Tutor Perini Building Co. This property sits across the road from the Choctaw Nation's tribal headquarters where they have a wellness center, a judicial center and the main office. I've heard Chief Batton say that the tribe is building a skyline in Durant, and when this building gets done, there will really be a skyline in the city.
Howard: And this isn't the casino's first expansion. As you mentioned earlier, Chief Batton says he knew the casino resort needed to be bigger after similar work in 2015.
Fleming: Yeah. As the gaming revenue has grown, the tribe has expanded their property. There has been an expansion and renovation, like you said, in 2015 that had added another hotel tower, a spa and the Choctaw Grand Theater in the district, which is a family entertainment center. The Grand Tower was added in 2010, and Chief Batton said he thinks the property will need to be expanded again after the new tower opens in 2021.
Howard: This expansion project seems to be yet another example of not only the success the casino has brought the Choctaw Nation, but also how the casino seems to be driving development in southeast Oklahoma.
Fleming: Yes. So what seems to get lost in all the state's tribal casino developments is the trickle-down effect. Like, example, you know JCJ is based in Tulsa - well it has several other offices around the nation - but it's getting work in Durant because of the project and others with the tribe. With construction and then operating the property, this casino will bring another thousand jobs to Durant. The southeast corner unemployment rate is higher than the rest of the state so these jobs are needed. Besides these jobs, the more money the tribe can collect, the more it can do to help its own citizens with services such as healthcare and education.
Howard: Molly Fleming is a reporter at The Journal Record. Thanks for your time today, Molly.
Fleming: Thanks for having me, Katelyn.
Howard: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @kgounews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you're there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. This includes the latest episode of How Curious about whether the famous talking horse from the sitcom "Mister Ed" is really buried in Oklahoma. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Katelyn Howard.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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