Gambling Near Fort Smith Continues to Expand

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Jun. 2, 2014 12:00 am  

The Cherokee Casino in Roland, Oklahoma, is transforming itself with an $80 million 170,000-SF upgrade. | (Photo by Beth Hall)

When it is mentioned that Fort Smith tax dollars may be spent in Roland or Pocola, Allen agreed with Sanders that Fort Smith isn’t completely out of the loop. “That bridge is a two-way bridge,” Allen said.

Fulton said the casino’s upgrade — specifically adding an attached 120-room hotel — is meant to make it more attractive to travelers on Interstate 40. The current facility uses a former commercial motel that is 25 years old and has only 44 rooms, Fulton said.

A search for Cherokee’s Roland casino on Internet travel sites reveals that most of the recommended hotels nearby are in Fort Smith. Having an attractive alternative on the casino grounds would help Cherokee Nation keep more revenue as visitors can now visit the casino, spend the night and then resume gambling the next day.

“It’s the next step in the evolution of the casino site,” Fulton said. “You do the math. You get two trips for one.”

Fulton said the interstate is a great luxury for the casinos in Roland and Pocola because it brings a steady stream of potential customers past the facilities daily. Cherokee Casino’s geographical area is north of the interstate and Choctaw’s is south, and Choctaw has a head start with the renovated casino — also with a 100-plus room hotel — that was finished in 2012.

Cherokee officials knew they had to upgrade in Roland or quit the market.

“We are competitive in Fort Smith,” Fulton said. “Pocola has a large geographical advantage. We don’t give up that area.

“Our biggest motivational factor was the building is nearing the end of its useful life. The question we asked is, do we still want a casino in that area? Obviously the answer is yes.”

Arkansans may gamble their money in Oklahoma, but Sanders said many of them also work in the Oklahoma casinos and bring their paychecks back home. Sanders said he still hears, occasionally, people wishing there was a casino on the Arkansas side of the border.

“It’s not a daily conversation,” Sanders said. “I really think people make the assumption that the casinos are going to be in Oklahoma.”

 

 

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