Tribal casinos reach new heights

Jan 3, 2006 2:52 AM

Bigger, better, and flashier than ever. The trend in casino design continues to put emphasis on adding more space and more amenities — convention centers, restaurants, shopping, nightclubs, and, more recently, spas. And tribal casinos are no exception. In fact, they’re setting the standards. Foxwoods is leading the way with its $700 million expansion, and other tribal casinos are jumping on the bandwagon.

The Seneca Nation of New York is ringing in the New Year with the opening of a new hotel and nightclub at its casino in Niagara Falls. The first ten floors of a 26-story tower are open for business, along with a new nightclub, two restaurants, a 24-hour café and deli. The hotel includes the 30,000-square-foot Seneca Event Center.

Crowning the new Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel is a 51-foot high-definition television screen shaped like a feather, and waterfall symbols illuminate 19 stories on two sides of the building. The elaborate graphics were designed by Newton Technologies, who made the wrap-around television screen in New York City’s Times Square, and the world’s largest digital screen for Fremont Street in Las Vegas.

Seneca President Barry E. Snyder Sr. stated, "This feather, our traditional symbol, will signify to all visitors and passers-by that this magnificent facility was built through the vision, hard work and determination of the Seneca Nation of Indians," The Buffalo News reported.

The hotel is 10 stories higher than the tallest hotel in Erie County and exceeds Niagara Falls’ downtown zoning limit by six floors, but under their state gaming compact, the Seneca are exempt from the building ordinance.

Backers of the hotel, Niagara Falls business leaders, and tourism experts say the project will breathe life back into the downtown area, attracting private businesses and tourists from the Canadian side of the Falls. But some small business owners worry that the casino complex will draw customers away from them, and some residents say the flashy new spectacle will detract from the natural wonder of the Falls.

The Pojoaque Pueblo of northern New Mexico recently announced a $200 million expansion of its facility. The tribe is partnering with Hilton Hotel Corp. for a new Buffalo Thunder Resort hotel that will have 400 rooms. The tribe already operates a Homewood Suites hotel. The project includes a 35,000 square-foot convention center, an expanded golf course, a performing-arts complex and a spa.

Additionally, the Pueblo’s existing casino will double its number of games to 1,600, and a new casino with 800 games will be built in conjunction with the hotel. Completion of the project is expected in 2008.

The Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota is planning an expansion of the Black Bear Casino and Hotel. The $100 million+ project includes a 12-story, 240-room addition to their hotel; a four-story parking ramp; a convention center; and a new, larger casino.

Black Bear Casino opened in June 1993, adding a $10 million hotel two years later and an 18-hole golf course in 2003. The new casino will include a 400-person bingo hall and 2,000 video slot, poker and keno machines. The project will also include a restaurant and a 2,000-seat auditorium.

Tribal Chairman Peter Defoe told The Duluth News that, while the band’s Reservation Business Committee hasn’t approved the plan yet, they expect to begin work on the project this spring.

PS I Love Poker

After going without live poker for the last four years, players in Palm Springs can once again enjoy the game in the lap of luxury. The Spa Resort Casino, operated by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, opened a new room that has nine tables and will host World Series of Poker Satellite Tournaments as well as other major tourneys.