Quapaw Tribe’s casino revenues help tribe diversify
QUAPAW – It's now been 10 years since the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma opened the doors to an exciting and innovative tribal enterprise, Downstream Casino and Resort.
The Miami News-Record reported on July 5 of 2008, the casino and resort opened a month ahead of schedule, breaking a construction record at 10 months and 26 days in completing the huge facility with five restaurants and two bars, and a poker room. According to a financial partner, the project came in millions of dollars under budget.
On opening day within the first hour, 10,000 people packed the casino floor.
Phase I of the multi-phase development was reported to be a $301 million endeavor consisting of the 277,000-square-feet casino building, a 12-story, 222-room luxury hotel with a spa and conference center. Total square feet of Phase I included 1 million square feet of gaming space featuring slot machines, table games, a poker room, and an added administration building.
The Loma Linda Country Club and 36 hole golf course was subsequently purchased by developers and a 7,500 seat outdoor concert venue was later added, as well as the Phase II second hotel tower and state-of-the-art convention center.
In September of 2008, 15 time Grammy winning legendary singer Tony Bennett performed at the very first concert at the resort’s outdoor theater. Since then superstar’s from comedy and music have taken the stage from all genres including Willie Nelson, Alabama, The Beach Boys, Heart, Jeff Dunham, and Hank Williams Jr.
Manhattan Construction Co.’s Oklahoma Division served as the general contractor on Downstream, with lead architect, Bill Dow, a principal of JCJ Architecture of Hartford, Conn. Dow said at the media opening, “We are especially proud of what we’ve done at Downstream. This is unique to the world because of its use of native Quapaw design elements. For us, as architects, it is definitely a showpiece.”
The casino hired 1,100 employees with an additional 200 hired for the hotel, which was completed in November of 2008.
Downstream was designed with the help of nationally recognized and acclaimed gaming experts to provide one of the finest Las Vegas-style casino gaming resorts in the nation.
By 2013 an independent study conducted by KlasRobinson Q.E.D. of Minneapolis, Minnesota estimated the facility's economic impact of $1 billion in the first five years on the Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas region that intersects where the casino resort is located. Downstream’s property is located at 69300 Nee Road in Quapaw and the entrance is in Missouri, parking is in Kansas, and the front doors of the casino are in Oklahoma.
The resort is owned and operated by the Downstream Development Authority of the Quapaw Tribe. The resort’s executive management team is comprised of seasoned gaming and hospitality industry veterans from across the country.
In the past half-decade, Downstream created more than 1,640 permanent jobs with total annual workers’ earnings of over $58 million.
10 years of success
Now, a decade later, Downstream Casino Resort has provided over $100 million to the Quapaw Tribal General fund in 10 years of performance while reducing tribal debt including bond repurchases in 2017.
Quapaw Tribe Business Committee Chairman John Berrey paused to reflect on the 10 year anniversary of Downstream Casino and Resort, he said, “This has been a phenomenal deal for us. You know, it's hard to put into words how excited and how fortunate we feel. Things have just gone so well, and we just think we have a bright future.”
The huge gaming venture has provided added revenues allowing the Quapaw Tribe to expand and diversify.
“It's really helped fund our cattle operation, our agricultural operation, tribal member insurance, college scholarships, senior housing, I mean it just goes on and on,” Berrey said.
Operating one of the largest gaming operations in Oklahoma and the region, the Quapaw Tribe has gained experience, expertise, and excellence in gaming and entertainment.
“I think that we've learned there's a lot of really good people in the region that we've come to know and enjoy working with. It's just been a really great experience,” Berrey said.
Downstream’s success, the Quapaw Tribe’s cattle operations, and agricultural endeavors have all gained state and national notoriety garnering respect and valuable networking connections with inter-tribal, federal and state leadership.
“Oh my God, it's opened so many doors. We've become a leader in agriculture in Indian country, and people look to us for guidance. We've helped a lot of tribes, they visit us, and we've kind of created some excitement in the agricultural space for tribes,” Berrey said. “When I go to DC I meet with the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue. He's excited about what the potential is for us. It's just really a great time.”
The Tribe’s endeavors to develop such an important project took foresight, vision, diligence and creative talent and financial knowledge to accomplish.
“We've done our homework, but we've also just learned to let people be creative that work for us, you know, we give people the opportunity to stretch out and come up with some creative ideas. We give people the freedom of thought and it's been really beneficial,” Berrey said. “The good thing is we have several tribal members in management and it's really helping them uplift their careers and search for things within the tribe that they really enjoy to do.”
The vision was huge, but the investment and groundbreaking project was an even larger venture and calculated gamble for the Quapaw Tribe.
“It's been very scary, a lot of it's been very scary because you know, we just did a lot of things that we were told could possibly work, we researched it, we got feasibility studies, we spent money sort of understanding it, but still you never know until it actually starts. It's been gratifying, but yes, it's all been very scary,” Berrey said, “I think it was just kind of hard for people to wrap their minds around. It was hard for the construction company, it was hard for the bankers, the investors that invested in it, you know when you take some large-scale dream and turn it into reality it takes a lot of faith but with that is a lot of fear, and fortunately we have people who were willing to stick to it and grind it out with us, and it's worked out so far.”
Challenges and opportunity
Berrey is proudest of the doors the enterprise opened for this and future generations.
“I think that is probably one of the most gratifying parts of the whole enterprise. We've created opportunities. People are taking advantage of those opportunities, and now they're growing up with us. They've created a career path for themselves, they work very hard, and we love working with people. It's just turned out to be an exciting experience,” he said.
Like all new ventures, challenges occur, but none greater than the EF-5 Joplin tornado that struck the area near the casino on May 22, 2011.
“Like everyone in this region, the Joplin tornado was a difficult challenge for us. We had 50 employees that lost 100 percent of everything they owned. We worked with them to try to replace those things and get them back on their feet. You know, like everyone we spent a lot of time and effort helping the community out, and even though it was a challenge, it was very gratifying to be part of a community that was so intent on trying to help everybody no matter who they were,” Berrey said.
He added, “And another challenge has been keeping the momentum going. Keeping people fired up. We make sure that our employees are loved, and we value their work. We're constantly trying to work with our managers and supervisors to make sure that they don't forget those things because really it's the people that work every day real hard that make us a success. We have to treat them with respect and kindness.”
The Quapaw Tribe’s future forward looks promising with the tribe’s diversification of interests and varied successful endeavors.
“I think for the next 10 years we just want to continue to grow, continue to really participate in the community. I don't know about any expansion plans for Downstream itself, we just want to make sure that the young people that are working there have a career path to stay there their entire working life if that's what they choose. We really want that to happen. Other things, we just want to keep looking for diversification opportunities for the Tribe, we don't want to just rely on the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to provide us with the necessary income that we need, we want to try to find other pathways and other economies that we can become part of and be leaders in that would help not only the Quapaw Tribe but help the local community,” Berrey said.
The Quapaw Tribe’s success with Downstream has not only benefited and affected the tribal members but the entire community.
“I want people to know we're so grateful to be part of this community. It's been great for us, and great for all of the people we work for, but we're super happy and we want to hear from the community on things that we can do to make better about what we do. We really like being part of this four-state community,” Berrey said.