Cherokees Prepare Large Casino Expansions: Tribe Enters New Sectors with Construction Projects, Acquisitions

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Taking Mom to a casino doesn't sound like the traditional way to celebrate Mother's Day in Oklahoma. But the $100 million Cherokee Casino Resort served more than 4,000 such guests Sunday, making Mother's Day another highlight in its remarkable history.

It was like a small city in here, said David Stewart, chief executive of Cherokee Nation Enterprises.

That business arm of the Cherokee Nation has enjoyed strong growth since its sprawling Catoosa resort doubled in size in 2004 - in a market its leaders feel offers wide room for growth.

We definitely have not reached our saturation point, said Stewart. Actually, when you build new facilities, you create new market.

Cherokee Nation Enterprises is preparing four major expansions that will help the firm improve its services as it expands into new markets. Stewart expects these projects to help Cherokee Nation bring more tourists into Oklahoma while keeping more gambling dollars in the state.

We're in our second tier of expansion, he said. Everything here is state of the art. It's the best of the best. And now we need to leverage it better.

In 90 days, the company will break ground on a $60-million-plus expansion of its West Siloam Springs casino, increasing its gaming space from 20,000 to 60,000 square feet.

Stewart noted the project would also add several amenities still being determined that could raise the total construction cost to $80 million. He expects the two-year project to increase the casino's employment to 700 from 400.

Workers also should break ground this year on a 14-story addition to the south end of the Cherokee Casino Resort, adding 200 hotel rooms and up to 20,000 square feet of convention space to the centerpiece operation for completion in 2008.

A tribal cultural center and parking garage also stand in the works.

As Cherokee Nation Enterprises continues to work out the expansion's full dimensions, with construction costs remaining volatile, Stewart placed the resort project cost range from $60 million to $80 million. He expects its staff of 800 could grow 25 percent.

In a $20 million addition to its Roland casino, Cherokee Nation Enterprises has already started construction on a 12,000-square- foot truck stop and convenience store. About 20,000 square feet of gaming space will be added to the 25,000-square-foot complex.

The Cherokee Nation Enterprises also has acquired two hotels, one in Roland and one alongside the resort at Catoosa. Acquisition costs were not disclosed. …