River Spirit Casino & Resort
River Spirit Casino & Resort grows into a regional attraction after undergoing a $365 million transformation.
By Kat Zeman
He watched it emerge from its cocoon. It took four years, but when the final stage of metamorphosis was achieved, Pat Crofts knew that what materialized would change the local economy and make River Spirit Casino into a destination spot. He was right.
After a $365 million makeover, Tulsa, Okla.-based River Spirit Casino metamorphosed from a local casino to a major regional attraction. According to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which owns River Spirit, the renovated casino and resort’s annual ongoing regional economic impact will be roughly $135 million.
In addition, over a period of two years during construction, the project had an economic impact of roughly $303 million on the Tulsa area and created about 4,100 jobs, according to River Spirit’s calculations.
“We transformed from a successful local casino to a large destination casino resort,” says Crofts, CEO for Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos. “Before the expansion, 90 percent of our business was local. Now it’s more like 60 to 70 percent local.”
Muscogee (Creek) Nation built the original River Spirit Casino in 2009. “It was just a casino with a couple of restaurants, but it wasn’t a resort,” Crofts says.
Welcome to Margaritaville
The four-year expansion involved roughly 1.2 million square feet of new construction and was completed in phases. The project, which broke ground in October 2013, involved building a new luxury hotel, convention center, theatrical showroom, restaurant, spa and a second casino.
The resort’s new restaurant, casino and convention center opened in 2016. In an effort to create an inviting atmosphere, River Spirit signed a licensing agreement with Jimmy Buffett for the use of the Margaritaville name. “To keep up with our competitors, we knew we needed to go with a national, high-end brand name and the brand that we decided upon was Margaritaville,” Crofts says.
The new 50,000-square-foot Margaritaville-themed casino features 850 gaming machines and 27 live gaming tables, and is connected to the original casino and new hotel lobby by a portal. “We now have two casinos under one roof,” Crofts says. “When people are not lucky in a casino, they generally want to leave. This gives them the option to go to another casino. We offer them an alternative.”
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant, bar and retail venue includes multiple bars on two levels, a seaplane, an erupting volcano sculpture, entertainment stage and two outdoor decks overlooking the Arkansas River. The convention center offers roughly 30,000 square feet of space for events and includes a ballroom, conference rooms and an area overlooking the hotel pool deck.
Demand was the driving force for the casino’s new hotel. “We had a lot of requests,” Crofts says. “People were calling to make hotel reservations … so we decided to fulfill our customers’ requests.”
The casino’s new hotel, which opened in January, features a 27-story glass tower. It houses 483 luxury rooms, 54 suites, fitness center, upscale spa and salon, retail stores and business center. Its rooms also have a tropical theme.
Opening at the same time as the hotel was a new entertainment showroom with roughly 2,700 theater-style seats, several VIP suites and a lounge that can expand the showroom to 3,000 seats in the event of a major sporting event.
Since opening, the showroom has played host to a number of national entertainers including Jimmy Buffett, Alan Jackson, Don Henley and Chris Isaak and rock bands like Santana and comedians such as Chris Rock. “We have four to six national acts per month and we sell out,” Crofts says. “Prior to our new showroom we had a small showroom that did regional acts, but people wanted national. We had to meet the demand.”
The final phase of the expansion was the resort’s new pool deck that opened in April. The large tropical-themed pool deck and riverfront entertainment area features poolside cabanas, palm trees, fire pits, Margaritaville Tiki Bar and Landmark Landing beach bar with swim-up seating. “That was a very cool part of the project,” Crofts says. “You feel like you’re in the Caribbean.”
The expansion also included a new Ruth’s Chris steakhouse and bar, Fireside Grill, 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar and a Margaritaville coffee shop.
River Spirit Casino Resort this year received a Four Diamond Designation Award from the AAA motor club federation. This ranks River Spirit in the top 6 percent of all AAA-approved properties in North America, Crofts says.
Since it opened, the resort also received more than 40 awards since including a number of mentions in Tulsa People magazine’s annual A-List readers’ choice awards in 2017. These include best casino, best hotel, best event venue, best live music venue, best hotel dining, best new restaurant and best spa and hair salon.