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Casinos take leap from smoky bingo hall days



n Catoosa, an avid golfer can send his or her spouse off to the machines or lunch while hitting the links at Cherokee Hills golf course, adjacent to the casino.

Another strategy is to offer entertainment like sporting events and concerts that also bring in customers who might not otherwise come into a casino, officials said. Some gambling establishments offer "fight nights" with professionally sanctioned boxing events that might alternate with a concert the next night.

In the far northeastern corner of the state, the Peoria Tribe's Buffalo Run Casino has scheduled events by groups meant to draw a more nostalgic crowd than the current headliners. In one season, Buffalo Run advertised heavily attended concerts by bands including ZZ Top and .38 Special.

Once customers are in the door, it's a combination of things that may keep them there. At the Chickasaw Nation's Riverwind Casino, not only can a visitor gamble and eat, but he or she can buy high-end chocolate from the factory the tribe owns in nearby Pauls Valley.

Offering goods to bring in customers is one thing; providing road access is a whole other consideration. Tribes, like the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, are taking measures to improve nearby infrastructure with local municipalities and the state transportation department.

Currently, about 40,000 vehicles drive through the interchange near the Interstate 40 and Dale exit by Shawnee, state officials said. Traffic was expected to increase by 50 percent over the next two decades. Consequently, Oklahoma Department of Transportation engineers planned to update the interchange.

After a cooperative agreement between the state and the Potawatomi, an $8 million tribal donation goosed the start of the long-planned project. Ron Brown, ODOT Division 3 assistant engineer, said locals, travelers and residents all use the roads near FireLake Grand Casino.

"Our engineers have taken into consideration traffic growth and speed patterns," Brown said. "The main focus for this project is safety."

The work near FireLake Grand Casino mirrors similar projects across Oklahoma. With roughly 100 casinos in Oklahoma, Indian tribes seemed to have made a quantum leap from the former days of bingo halls. With the number-calling days a distant reminder of the past, some tribes predict Indian gambling has room to evolve again.

"It's becoming standard for tribes to rethink the next step," Codopony said. "Creating the hotel resort site is the next step. Beyond that, there's always room to grow." "?S.E. Ruckman


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