The balance of Tulsa’s casino dollars could be tipped, the market grown, and a different kind of consumer could be attracted, by the new Margaritaville hotel and casino complex being built at River Spirit Casino & Resort in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Cities are fighting for workers and tourism dollars, especially at a time when marketers and economists say that instead of stuff, younger consumers are buying experiences.
The project is collaboration between Jimmy Buffet’s vast hotel and resort brand and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and in August will see a partial roll-out, with the facility being fully open in mid-December. Pat Crofts, CEO of Muscogee (Creek) Casinos said that people will feel “like they’re somewhere else” when the facility is finished, according to Tulsa World. The Tulsa market might be transformed into something else as well. Crofts said, “This will be the best. No question about it.” He said most of the gambling pie is divided up between the Cherokee Nation and their Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He said that the former does a bit more weekend business than River Spirit does, however, that could change with the completion of Margaritaville. Crofts said that they’ll be the largest hotel and “We’ll have two casinos under one roof. This pool deck out here. No one is going to have anything like that. This is comparable to any nice resort in the world.”
Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services data shows that the Creeks pay less in exclusivity fees than the Cherokees. In the 2015 fiscal year, approximately $14 million was collected from the Cherokees and approximately $9 million was collected from the Creeks. Most of the revenue collected goes toward schools in Oklahoma and is a small fraction of what is collected by casinos from table gaming. Due to the sliding payment scale, it’s difficult to estimate what the table game earnings at the casinos are. Then, food and hotel rooms, non-gaming earnings, have to be factored in, which means well over a billion dollars a year is probably being spent by consumers at Oklahoma casinos.
According to Crofts, the point of the project “wasn’t just to build a bigger box and split the business up, no one wins that way. Everybody splits up the market. What we’re going to do is build something that will grow the market and bring people in.” Margaritaville is seen by the Osage Tourism Council as more competition, and not necessarily a bad thing. The expansion is having a spillover effect, with the Osage Nation improving their casino portfolio as well by adding boutique hotels in Ponca City and Skiatook to “attract the lake crowd, according to Chris Barton, who handles Osage Casino’s public relations.
Other investments, besides the tribes, are being made around the casinos, such as Catoosa hills, which opened up after the Hard Rock did in 2015. There are also plans for more retail space near Margaritaville, with Tulsa’s first outlet mall opening later this year and The Flying Tee, a sports bar, and golf venue, opening early next month.
University of Oklahoma economist Robert Dauffenbach said that the Arkansas river development will encourage consumers to follow, and in turn, change the way people think of Tulsa.