Muscogee (Creek) Nation River Spirit Casino

Gaming is at the heart of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s River Spirit Casino in Tulsa, Okla., but it will be far from the only amenity offered when an ambitious expansion project is completed in late 2016.

Hundreds of gaming machines will be accompanied by a luxury hotel, numerous dining options, a pool, spa, shows and retail stores when 1.2 million square feet of construction – one of the largest building projects in the state’s history – is finished. The result will be a destination for vacations, conventions and tradeshows and major boon to the Tulsa economy.

“You can’t just build a bigger casino,” says CEO Pat Crofts, echoing a theme that’s growing across the gaming industry. “You’ve got to give people a reason to come.” Make no mistake; there will be no shortage of reasons to check out the $365 million development, which will have Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Casino and Restaurant as its centerpiece. “This is a really exciting project,” Crofts says.

“The objective of our expansion project is to develop an upscale, full-service destination resort, hotel and casino that offers much more than just gaming,” Crofts says. Additions include lodging, dining, entertainment, retail and nightlife. “We are offering all of this on the banks of the scenic Arkansas River, which no competitor can offer.”

Bringing Margaritaville to the resort was no easy task but critical to the resort’s success, Crofts says. “We determined early on that we needed a strong brand to be associated with our expansion project to meet and exceed our competition,” he recalls. “Just building a ‘bigger box’ would not get us to where we wanted to be. One of the brands we were familiar with, which was verified as a great match through research and surveys, was Margaritaville. I contacted their CEO nearly four years ago and met him at their Flamingo Las Vegas property.” 

Following that meeting, Margaritaville development personnel visited Tulsa and the existing River Spirit Casino and recommended moving forward as a strategic partner based on the quality of the casino operation, the expansion plans and the market potential.

“We ultimately reached an agreement whereby they would operate all Margaritaville venues and we would operate the Margaritaville-themed casino as well as the hotel and other components of the project,” Crofts says. “In this manner, the challenges of operating such a significantly larger facility are shared.”

Margaritaville Theme

The two-story Margaritaville restaurant and bar will feature a seaplane and volcano that erupts lava into a large blender. The restaurant will have seating for more than 400, including two outside decks of seating overlooking the Arkansas River and a tropical-themed pool deck.

The new 50,000-square-foot casino will be branded the Margaritaville Casino and will include 850 gaming machines along with 20 table games. “That’s a decent size casino,” Crofts says. The area’s decor, atmosphere and gaming will reflect the Margaritaville escapism lifestyle with entrances situated adjacent to the Margaritaville restaurant, bar and retail complex, Crofts says. “This will be the best fully integrated casino in the state,” Crofts says. The Margaritaville Bar and Restaurant complex also will include an expansive retail shop for Margaritaville-themed gifts and apparel.

Meanwhile, the luxury, 27-story hotel will feature  483 rooms and suites, a fitness center, retail stores, a business center and gift shop. The hotel will include VIP suites, junior suites, parlor suites and standard rooms. Poured-in-place concrete is being used to construct the hotel, and workers are completing approximately one floor per week, Crofts says. An attached, 1,500-car parking structure will be built adjacent to the hotel.

Construction of the complex has progressed smoothly, but garnering a series of permits before ground was broken presented a significant hurdle, Crofts says. Because the facility is being built along wetlands near the shores of the Arkansas River, approval was required from several governmental agencies including the Army Corp. of Engineers, the EPA and the state. “We had to jump through a lot of hoops,” Crofts notes. “The biggest obstacle was getting all the government approvals.”

Workers have completed most of the earthwork and infrastructure items, such as utility relocations, bridges and roadways. The low-rise construction, including the new casino, restaurants, convention center and showroom theater, also is underway, Crofts says. “The majority of the structural steel beams are in place, and steel decking is nearly complete,” he says. “We are on target for a September 2016 opening of the low-rise components and a December 2016 completion of the hotel tower.”

Something for Everyone

The integrated complex will offer something for everyone. The convention and meeting venue will feature a 50,000-square-foot convention center, 30,000 square feet of public space including ballroom, conference and boardrooms with state-of-the-art audio and video capabilities. The entertainment venue, meanwhile, will have a showroom offering theater-style seating for 2,500 plus private VIP suites and lounge. The showroom can expand to 3,000 seats for sporting events.

“This will be a venue for top-name concerts, ring events including mixed martial arts, and other entertainment offerings in an intimate environment where patrons can experience them without the hassle of a 20,000-seat arena or stadium,” Crofts says. “Jimmy Buffett will perform at our official VIP grand opening once all of the expansion project is complete.

“In addition to in the Showroom Theatre, live music will be offered on stage in the Margaritaville Bar and Restaurant and in the 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar,” Crofts notes.

A Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant will be available for those seeking a fine-dining experience. The 15,500 square-foot restaurant will be located in the lobby of the hotel tower. It will feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking the Arkansas River and Turkey Mountain. The menu will include a variety of prime steaks and seafood. A new 24-hour restaurant and a coffee bar also are part of the expansion.

The complex also will have a pool with a large deck, and the riverfront entertainment area will feature poolside cabanas, palm trees, fire pits and Margaritaville’s Land Shark Landing beach bar with swim-up seating. “It’s going to be a pretty hopping place,” Crofts says. “Everything is being integrated with the existing complex.”

The current 250,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2009, has a casino with 2,700 gaming machines and 35 tables along with a Johnny Rockets restaurant, sports bar and buffet. Having two casinos under roof will be a major attraction and is especially appealing to some players who like to switch casinos in order to change their luck, Crofts says.

The Jimmy Buffett-themed 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar recently opened as a precursor to the Margaritaville complex. The bar features specialty cocktails themed around the iconic song. “Jimmy Buffett is timeless and appeals to a broad range of ages,” Crofts says. The singer also appeals to the demographic that the River Spirit Casino typically attracts: individuals in their 40s and 50s with disposable income and time spend on getaways and leisure activities, Crofts says. But he expects the expanded facility to appeal to a wider variety of patrons.

“Margaritaville and the other brands and amenities, such as the theatre showroom, are expected to draw a wider customer base, including younger patrons attracted to the entertainment and nightlife,” Crofts says. “We will have amenities and offerings for all ages and interests.”

A Regional Draw

The River Spirit Casino currently describes itself as “a local’s casino,” meaning that most of its patrons come from within a 50-mile radius of Tulsa. Crofts expects to redefine that portrayal when the new facility opens and draws from a larger area including Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Arkansas. “We will attract people from the entire Midwest region,” he says. “We believe this will be a tremendously successful project appealing to a broad spectrum of customers due to our location, our national brand partnerships, such as Margaritaville, and our upscale offerings, all coupled with great customer service that we concentrate on and are known for.”

Marketing initiatives are already underway to promote the new resort. “We have recently engaged a nationally known marketing and advertising agency, Wide Awake Marketing, to assist us in the transformation into a regional destination resort,” Crofts says. “Wide Awake has many years of resort/hotel/casino experience with offices in Las Vegas and Reno.”

Crofts has no doubt the resort/casino complex will compete nationally. “It will be very successful in retaining existing customers as well as attracting new patrons from the region and across the country,” he says. “We will offer a quality product with exceptional customer service. This is a winning combination in our business.”

Relying on Expertise

Crofts is no stranger to the gaming industry. He started working in Las Vegas for a firm whose primary client was the Howard Hughes casino empire in the 1970s and went on to hold positions with Harrah’s and Harvey’s Lake Tahoe. During his time at Harvey’s Lake Tahoe, Crofts helped oversee the development and construction of a 700-room hotel tower on the banks of the lake. 

Crofts and some partners later owned and operated casinos in Nevada and the Caribbean and became involved in tribal and riverboat gaming, developing projects across the United States. He also worked for an international casino management firm based in Las Vegas. It was in this capacity that Crofts was introduced to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which was developing the River Spirit Tulsa property. Crofts served as a consultant and helped develop the business plan and obtain financing for the property before becoming CEO.

The River Spirit Casino Expansion project’s size and scope is significant as it will generate approximately 800 new full-time jobs, and it will have a combined annual economic impact of $135.4 million, Crofts says. The annual payroll for the new jobs is estimated to be $38 million, he says.

The construction of the project will have a significant impact on the local economy, generating 1,800 construction jobs over the 24-month construction period with a $305 million economic impact on the region, Crofts says. Manhattan Construction Company, a nationally ranked entertainment and casino contractor, is managing the construction of the project in a partnership with RedStone Construction Services, called Manhattan Redstone A Joint Venture. Dallas-based architecture firm HKS is the project’s architect. The project manager is Tulsa-based PMgNative, which functions as the owners representative on the project.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation operates a string of 11 gaming facilities throughout northeastern Oklahoma, the largest of which is the River Spirit Casino. 

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