New Cherokee Casino Tahlequah opens its doors

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
05/13/2019 12:30 PM
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Employees await the official opening of the new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, which began operations on April 30 at the Cherokee Springs Plaza. The Cherokee Nation will repurpose its older casino located west of the Tribal Complex. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Pieces of artwork and cultural displays are part of the new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah, which officially opened on April 30 at the Cherokee Springs Plaza. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – When the doors opened on the new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah on April 30, it was the fruition of an idea seeded about 10 years ago.

The first patrons entered the casino at 10 a.m. The venue, sited in the Cherokee Springs Plaza south of town on U.S. 62, includes hundreds of gaming machines, two restaurants, a tavern with a stage as well as convention space. It replaces the older casino farther west on 62.

“My staff was heavily involved in all aspects of the operation,” Jamie Hummingbird, Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission director, said. “From the construction, the games, the employees, everything that happens within the walls.”

Hummingbird, a 20-year veteran with the CNGC, has been part of the planning since the larger Cherokee Casino Tahlequah first became a concept.

“I am ecstatic,” he said. “This is probably my favorite facility of all the ones we have, and we have some great ones. This one is special to me because it is in the heart of the Cherokee Nation. People come here to associate with the Cherokee Nation.”

As the doors swung open, visitors complimented the building’s exterior.

“The architecture brings in designs from different eras of the cultural history of the Cherokee Nation – each of our properties has a different theme,” Hummingbird said. “A lot of the artwork reflects the 1700s. The architecture reflects wood, stone, earthen colors and motifs.”

Kenny Foreman, majority owner of the Foreman-Manhattan Construction Team Mentor Protege Agreement, said construction of the 96,000-square-foot facility was an enjoyable challenge.

“Probably the most exciting thing was the event center – the convention space,” Foreman said. “It is going to bring a lot of people into Tahlequah and Cherokee County. It will have a huge economic impact.

Foreman-Manhattan is Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified, and Foreman is a CN citizen. The casino was his first major CN project.

“We have done other projects – other casinos for other tribes,” Foreman said. “Groundbreaking for this project was in late March last year. We figured that we missed three weekends in that time. The rest of the time it was seven days a week.”

While the contract was a boon for Foreman and his family, he was equally excited about the project’s impact for other Cherokees.

“Sixty-seven percent of contract dollars went back to TERO vendors,” he said.

Serving as general manager for Cherokee Casino Tahlequah is Rod Fourkiller, who is also the general manager for Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson. He expressed excitement with the larger Tahlequah venue at Cherokee Springs Plaza.

“We’ve brought approximately 500 machines to the plaza, along with a convention space that will hold 1,000 people,” Fourkiller said. “It’s a pretty good step up from what we’ve had within our entity.”

The casino also adds an option for Tahlequah diners and relocates another. Visitors will also want to check the entertainment calendar, which will feature local and regional acts.

“We bring the White Wolf Steakhouse as an expansion here to Tahlequah,” Fourkiller said. “We’ve also brought in the River City Grill from our existing property. In addition to the grill, we’ve also brought the Ancient Oak Tavern, which will host live entertainment. That is something we’ve never done here in Tahlequah among our gaming entities.”

Fourkiller said he was pleased to see an immediate and enthusiastic response to the casino’s opening.

“With the expansion, we added a few jobs,” he said. “We are now up to 220 employees – an addition of approximately 90 jobs at this location. CNE (Cherokee Nation Entertainment) is excited to be able to offer additional jobs in the area and hopefully help stimulate the local economy. I know our employees are ecstatic to be here. It’s a big day today. There has been a good turnout on the gaming floor. They’re already lined up at the steakhouse. A lot of planning and development went into today.”

CN officials said the casino located a few miles south of Tahlequah near Sequoyah Schools will be donated to the tribe’s Cherokee Immersion Charter School to help expand and grow language programs.

A Tru by Hilton hotel is also planned for the complex. For more information, visit cherokeecasino/tahlequah.
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