Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Nation more than just WinStar World, branches beyond casinos Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · July 15, 2019 at 12:24 am THACKERVILLE, OK – Based solely on the achievement of the massive WinStar World Casino and Resort – the flagship of the Chickasaw Nation’s 22-casino enterprise in Oklahoma – the tribe easily has one of the most successful Native American gaming businesses in the U.S. However, gaming is no longer the nation’s sole revenue source. WinStar World Hotel The Chickasaws have branched into industries unrelated to casinos, such as manufacturing, government contracting, and banking, creating a diversified portfolio of more than 60 businesses employing some 13,000 people. Gaming does remain the primary revenue provider for the tribe, which has more than 66,000 citizens. The tribe’s casinos are scattered throughout 7,648 square miles of tribal land that encompasses all or parts of 13 counties in south-central Oklahoma. Bill Lance, the secretary of commerce for the Chickasaw Nation, credited tribal Governor Bill Anoatubby with creating business diversification efforts and building a stable financial foundation for tribal-funded initiatives and providing job opportunities to tribal citizens. Anoatubby is now in his 32nd year as the elected leader of what is considered the nation’s 12th largest federally recognized tribe. “Business diversification always has been an integral part of (his) vision, which supports the tribe’s mission to enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw people,” Lance said. “The efforts toward economic development and business diversification efforts play an integral role in our goals of increasing our level of self-governance and self-determination.” WinStar World Casino Lance cited an economic study, conducted by Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, that revealed that the Chickasaw Nation contributed more than $3.18 billion to the Oklahoma economy in 2015. That figure was a $750 million increase (30.9% overall growth) over the tribe’s $2.43 billion contribution to the state economy in 2011. Lance said almost $180 million of that increase can be attributed to non-gaming business revenue, which grew from just over $117 million in 2011 to more than $296 million in 2015 – a 153% increase in four years. “We’ve been able to leverage knowledge of and success in gaming to expand upon our core competencies into other businesses and industries,” Lance said. WinStar World General Manager Jack Parkinson said the tribe is “thoughtful” in its investments and business ventures, including the casino. WinStar began as a small bingo hall in 1991 and now houses the largest casino floor in the U.S. – 698,000 square feet. “I’ve worked with a lot of tribes in my lifetime, and I’ve spent a decade here with the nation,” Parkinson said. “There has never been a steadier government and a steadier leadership in the tribal world than the Chickasaw Nation. They don’t think in five-to-10-year increments. They think in 50-to-100-year increments.” WinStar World Convention Center WinStar World Gaming, though, remains king for the Chickasaws, and WinStar World is the driving force. The property is located on I-35, just across the state line from Texas, in Thackerville, a town with fewer than 1,000 permanent residents. WinStar World’s half-mile-long casino is designed to represent nine international cities – Paris, Beijing, Rome, Madrid, London, Vienna, Cairo, New York City and Rio. The casino contains more than 8,000 slot and video gaming machines, 99 table games, a 55-table poker room, a bingo hall and several specialty gambling areas, including an off-track betting lounge and high-limit gaming areas. The resort has 1,400-hotel rooms, 21 dining and beverage locations, and a 67,000-square-foot convention center. The nearby WinStar World Golf houses two 18-hole championship courses. The main customer base comes from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, roughly 85 miles south, the seventh-largest metro area in the U.S. with a population of more than 8.5 million. Parkinson said the casino also draws business from the Oklahoma City area, some 125 miles to the north, and other parts of Texas, including San Antonio. “We compete with everybody, we compete with Las Vegas,” Parkinson said, citing the closeness of its convention facility to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for business meetings. “Like most American Indian properties, it started in a bingo hall in the middle of a field,” he said. “We’re a destination resort but we’re a regional casino. We want to concentrate on servicing our market and make sure we’re efficient at it.” Oklahoma ranks behind only California among states that produce Indian gaming revenue, according to Casino City’s most recent Indian Gaming Industry Report. In 2016, the state’s 31 tribes – operating 131 gaming facilities – reported almost $4.4 billion in gaming revenue and $753 million in non-gaming revenue. California economist Alan Meister, who authored the report, said Oklahoma tribes are following the trend to increase non-gaming amenities, which, he said, encourages customers to “stay longer and spend more.” Without revealing figures, Lance said it was “noteworthy that (Chickasaw’s) gaming sector continues to register year-over-year growth at a time when national and international gaming revenues have softened.” WinStar World gained nationwide notoriety last September when it announced a marketing and sponsorship agreement with the Dallas Cowboys, making it the first casino to have a business relationship with an NFL franchise. The deal doesn’t cover sports wagering – which has not been legalized in Oklahoma – but makes WinStar World the Cowboys’ official casino partner and grants it exclusive use of the team’s logos and marks, including the iconic blue Cowboys star. “It was a natural marriage between the biggest casino and the biggest sports brand,” Parkinson said. For now, the tribe isn’t focused on sports betting, Parkinson said, noting that Oklahoma lawmakers would first have to approve the activity. He also said the Chickasaws “would want to be part of the regulatory process to be sure we protect ourselves.” WinStar World, its current size notwithstanding, has space for another hotel tower, and the tribe is considering additional non-gaming attractions. Which is good, since the competition is expanding. The Choctaw Nation in neighboring Durant, Oklahoma is adding a 1,000-room hotel tower to its Choctaw Casino and Resort, along with restaurants, retail, and a conference center, all of which are geared to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. WinStar World and Choctaw are 55 miles apart. In January, SunTrust Bank gaming analyst Barry Jonas toured the region and told investors Dallas-Fort Worth “is vastly underpenetrated by gaming, given its distance to legal casino gaming.” Texas currently has a lottery, pari-mutuel wagering, bingo and three small Indian casinos, but none are close to the metroplex. “Given the region has been experiencing strong demographic and economic growth over the past few years, we believe tribal casinos will continue to benefit from solid underlying topline fundamentals, especially given the relative under-penetration,” Jonas said. Remington Park, Oklahoma City Growing Chickasaw gaming The Chickasaw gaming portfolio in Oklahoma – which will expand to 23 properties this week – includes casino-only facilities, small casino-hotels and truck stops with slot machines. The tribe’s Border Casino, which is just two miles from WinStar World in Thackerville, started as a convenience store and gasoline station with a few slot machines. It has now grown into a casino with 2,300 games. “The tribe is very careful in their business and how they grow,” Parkinson said. Through Global Gaming Solutions, an LLC founded by the tribe in 2008, the Chickasaws are able to seek opportunities outside reservation land. The business was created to support other tribes with development and operations of gaming facilities. Global Gaming CEO Skip Seeley said the Chickasaws have watched how Florida’s Seminole Tribe has branched out into other states through its Hard Rock brand, and how the recent $1.3 billion purchase of Sands Bethlehem by the Poarch Creek Indians brought that Alabama tribe into Pennsylvania’s commercial market. “That is certainly part of the long-term strategy… diversifying into other markets interests the company,” Seeley said, adding that Global Gaming has brought the tribe’s gaming expertise to struggling gaming businesses. Global Gaming acquired the bankrupt Remington Park Racetrack in Oklahoma City in January 2010 and invested $15 million in the facility. The suites were overhauled, along with the building’s exterior, and two restaurants were added. Global also developed a 750-slot machine casino, which is regulated by the state. The casino – the only gaming currently available in Oklahoma City – allows for year-round usage of the facility. Similarly, in May 2011, Global Gaming purchased the Lone Star Park Racetrack in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which was also in bankruptcy. The facility was refurbished with new suites and upgrades to the backstretch area. Texas does not currently allow casino gaming, but, like Remington Park, an off-track betting lounge. Global Gaming made improvements to the lounge, which combined the area with a restaurant and bar. “We’re actively looking for different areas that would be a good fit for us to pursue,” Seeley said. “The timing has to be right for this vehicle.” Chickasaw’s Bedré Fine Chocolates Business diversification Nongaming assets owned by the Chickasaw Nation include Bank2 in Oklahoma City, which has $135 million in assets, and Solara Healthcare LLC, which operates eight hospitals in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana with more than 1,000 employees. Chickasaw Nation Industries Inc. has more than 2,000 employees and provides administrative, technical, construction, medical and information technology services to federal agencies. The tribe also owns five radio stations and Bedré Fine Chocolate, which produces gourmet chocolates for retail, wholesale and corporate clients including private labeling options. “Whatever the trends, strategic planning has been very important to the success of our business diversification efforts,” Lance said. “Our leadership team is continuously searching for opportunities to develop new businesses and expand existing operations. They have been extremely successful in these efforts.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.