he Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has added a new 21-story tower to its Oklahoma resort and casino. The 300,000-square-foot Sky Tower represents a $600 million expansion that progressed despite the pandemic’s debilitating economic fallout.
Set to open to the public on August 6, the tower features 1,000 new hotel rooms, six restaurants, 11 bars, and a 3-acre, two-swimming pool area. The expansion also brings in 40 new poker tables and over 3,300 new slot machines, raising Choctaw’s total to 136 tables and over 7,200 machines.
The tower in Durant, Oklahoma, broke ground in 2019, and despite its price tag leaves the tribe with no debt.
Choctaw and the Chickasaw Nation’s Winstar World Casino are popular destinations for North Texans, who make up a large percentage of casino visitors each year. Both are a little over 80 miles from downtown Dallas. Choctaw estimates that two-thirds of its visitors live in Dallas-Fort Worth, while Texans represent 80% of all patrons.
Choctaw assistant general manager Wendy Carter, said: “We have purposely designed our new expansion to appeal to all guests in the nearby states of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas by providing an elevated resort-style gaming experience within a short distance from home.”
Kyle Dean, director of the Native American and Urban Studies Center at Oklahoma City University, said the competition between these Oklahoma casinos lies in the attractions each offer, driving different interests to different locations.
“To some degree, they’re in a competition, and to some degree, they’re complementary,” Dean said. “They create this southern Oklahoma gambling complex that draws from the captive audience that is North Texas.”
WinStar has nearly 400,000 square feet of gaming floor and over 8,600 electronic games. It’s also known for its entertainment lineup, though live events were canceled or postponed during the pandemic.
Choctaw, which closed March 16 and reopened with COVID-19 protocols on June 1, 2020, resumes live entertainment in August, reports the Dallas News.
Carter said consumer demand was the key reason for the tower expansion, along with opportunities to elevate the guest experience. Hotel occupancy rates and demand for gaming were growing consistently before the pandemic and are now on the rebound as COVID-19 infection rates slow and vaccination increases.“We are excited to see the property fulfill the demand,” said Carter.
Carter said some of the jobs being added by the expansion carry a $1,000 sign-on bonus. The company has filled about half the 1,200 positions it will need.
Casey Clark, Senior Vice President of Communications at the American Gaming Association, said the pandemic placed a significant strain on casinos across the country last year, with 989 shut down in a matter of weeks. The National Indian Gaming Commission reported gaming revenue of $34.6 billion in 2019, though comparable data for 2020 hasn’t been made public yet.
“[The pandemic] dropped game revenue for the year by over 30% year over year,” Clark said. “It impacts nearly two million jobs across the country and the small businesses they support.”Choctaw and other tribes pay fees to the state of Oklahoma based on revenue from gaming activities. In fiscal 2020, those fees fell 16.6% to $123.6 million, the first decline since 2014. Choctaw contributed $23 million of that total.
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma consists of more than 200,000 people and operated last year with a $1.9 billion annual fiscal budget. Profits from its businesses provide educational programs, health services, and job opportunities.