The Quapaw Nation's newest casino opened Saturday in Ottawa County, with its construction having been finished ahead of schedule and under budget.
Temporary delays in traffic flow developed early as motorists navigated a newly constructed traffic circle to accommodate the thousands of patrons expected to pass through the gaming facility on any given day.
The Downstream Casino sits just inside the state line, so close that its parking lot is actually in Kansas. Travelers off nearby Interstate 44 will exit the highway in Missouri to reach the casino.
Through a 6 percent exclusivity fee from the casino's profits, the 3,500-member Quapaw Nation figures to produce at least $1.5 million annually for Oklahoma's public education system.
With other revenue from the casino, the tribe wants to increase its health care and scholarship offerings, casino spokesman Sean Harrison said.
The 70,000-square-foot casino, which includes an adjoining 12-story hotel, five restaurants and a sports bar, cost $301 million to build and went up in just under 11 months. It has 2,000 slot machines and initially will employ about 1,100 workers.
“It is unheard of in this business, opening ahead of schedule and millions of dollars under budget,” Quapaw Chief John Berrey said.
Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning, and Harrison said there were a few thousand people waiting to get in when the doors opened at noon.
Within an hour, Harrison estimated there were 10,000 people inside - about as many as casino officials hoped would visit in the full first day of operation.
“I think by that judgment, it's a smashing success for day one,” Harrison said.
G. Michael “Mickey” Brown, who helped create the casino culture of Atlantic City, N.J., has served as the project manager for the casino.
“When I first heard what the Quapaw Tribe had in mind to create here, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Brown said. “And it has exceeded my expectations.”
The 12-story hotel, which will have 222 guest rooms, a spa and a conference center, will open in November, and 200 more workers are expected to be hired before then. Plans also call for a second hotel tower and a convention center to be built.
Harrison said a 7,500-seat outdoor concert venue was also in the works, and the casino hoped to bring in a national recording act for the first show.
Two 18-hole golf courses are located across a highway from the casino.