DURANT, Okla. – Amid frigid temperatures and bright lights filling the sky over Durant were crowds of people who came Feb. 9 to witness the grand opening and ribbon-cutting for the new Choctaw Casino Resort.
Master of Ceremonies Jody House opened the ceremony by welcoming guests and with introductions of dignitaries in attendance before giving the floor to the leader of the Choctaw Nation, Chief Gregory E. Pyle.
“Welcome everyone and thank you for coming out to share in this momentous occasion with us,” said Chief Pyle.
Durant Mayor Jerry Tomlinson also spoke during the ceremony and he, along with members of the Durant Industrial Authority, presented Chief Pyle and Assistant Chief Gary Batton with a Native American sculpture on behalf of the citizens of Durant to show their appreciation for all the Choctaw Nation has done for the area.
“We continue to hear one resounding praise - the Choctaw Nation has put Durant, Oklahoma, on the international map,” said Mayor Tomlinson.
The ceremony continued outside with a ribbon-cutting followed with a lighting of the flames on the Towers and Fire Rings sculpture located in front of the casino’s grand outer entryway.
The ceremony marked the end of 22 months of coordination, building, and hard work put into the $300 million resort, and marked the beginning of fun, excitement, and new opportunities at the expansive casino and 12-story, amenity-filled hotel.
A fireworks show closed the ceremony.
While thousands of guests trotted the floors, trying their luck for the first time at the new casino, Janie Dillard, Executive Director over Gaming, acknowledged the nearly 1,900 employees on staff who had been working feverishly for months to make sure the night went off without a hitch.
“A huge thanks goes to our employees who put so much into making this casino a success,“ she said.
The casino sprawls over 110,000 square feet of carpeted gaming area and features 3,001 slot machines, 36 Black Jack tables, 30 Poker tables and two Roulette tables for the enjoyment of guests aged 18 and older. Four premium lounges are also positioned around the casino for guests wanting to relax or take a break from gaming.
“This is great,” said Jennifer Pearson of Durant, a guest enjoying the casino for the first time. “I can’t believe this is in Durant. It feels like I’m in (Las) Vegas.”
Nine restaurants ranging from a steakhouse and a cafe to a stop-and-go food court provide variety for those wanting to grab a bite to eat.
The hotel boasts 204,000 square feet filled with 330 guest rooms, 12 suites, two executive suites and a business center. It also features a fitness center, indoor and outdoor pool, a spa, amphitheater and escalators connecting a 1,700-slot parking garage for the enjoyment and convenience of its guests.
With the new casino came more than 1,000 new jobs and a $25 million annual payroll to employees, providing an economic boost to the area.
The unemployment rate for Bryan County is 5 percent compared to the 6.5 percent average for the state of Oklahoma. Across the Red River, Grayson County, Texas, has an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The great thing is that the unemployment rate in Bryan County is one of the lowest in the entire state,” said Chief Pyle. “We’re really proud of that.”
Additionally, the casinos mean growth within the Choctaw Nation. Money from gaming funds many programs for the Choctaw Nation’s tribal members.
“Head starts, daycares, scholarships, medical clinics - it all comes out of gaming so it’s very important to us that this goes well,” said Chief Pyle.
“We’ve sent about 7,000 kids through Career Development and we spend about $10 million a year on scholarships, “ he continued. “About 90 percent of those funds come from our casinos. We built our own hospital and five clinics and put in millions of dollars a year to keep and buy medicine for our elderly. We spent $7 million last year feeding and housing our elderly. It all comes out of our casinos. The list goes on and on.”