Chickasaw Nation to invest in casinos

Sunday, January 9th 2005, 4:10 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma's largest tribal casino will soon be converted into an entertainment mecca including hotels and a conference center, golf course and family fun center, according to a published report.

The Chickasaw Nation plans to invest $260 million on casinos and other tourism projects in the state, including $153 million to convert the WinStar casino near Thackerville into a Las Vegas-style venue, The Oklahoman reported in Sunday's editions.

Other investments include $40 million to improve casinos in Goldsby and Newcastle and $27 million to tear down the Chickasaw Lodge at Sulphur and replace it with a ``grand palace'' resembling the Artesian Hotel built on the same spot around the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907.

``This is part of an overall plan to really develop and create a destination point in south-central Oklahoma,'' said Brian Campbell, chief executive officer of Chickasaw Enterprises, the tribe's business arm.

Campbell said the development plan should create 3,000 jobs.

The plan was approved by the Chickasaw Legislature last month, about six weeks after Oklahoma voters approved a referendum that allows tribal casinos to offer tournament-style card games and more attractive electronic games including video poker.

Campbell said the investment at Thackerville represents the tribe's interest in capturing a larger share of the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Texas gamblers have comprised a large majority of Winstar's customers since its opening three miles north of the Texas border in July 2003.

Industry analysts said the improvements will make the casino more competitive with gambling destinations like Tunica, Miss., Kansas City, Mo., and Shreveport-Bossier City, La.

Tribal lawmaker Wilson Seawright said the 13-member Legislature was told Dec. 17 that virtually all of the money for the projects will be fronted by an unspecified vendor.

Seawright, who voted against the plan, said he has several concerns including a promise that the tribe would only have to repay one-third of the money.

``Now, folks just don't do business like that. There's got to be expectations of some other payback,'' he said.

The tribe's casino partner, Multimedia Games of Austin, Texas, financed Winstar and other previous Chickasaw casino expansions. Those arrangements require the company's electronic machines to cover 80 percent of casino floor space, with the company collecting a percentage from each machine.

Multimedia owns roughly half of the 20,000 gambling machines in Oklahoma, according to industry analysts.

In the past year, Multimedia's subsidiary, Megabingo, has purchased several large tracts next to the Thackerville and Newcastle casinos and conveyed them to the tribe..

Campbell said he could not disclose Multimedia's involvement in the plan but said ``the company will assist in construction.''

The Chickasaws have become Oklahoma's dominant gaming tribe. Although it does not disclose specific gaming revenues, overall business revenues before expenses totaled $63.2 million for October and November, according to the tribal newspaper.