It began with bingo, and today encompasses lots of bang for your buck: Indian gaming is big business in Oklahoma. There are almost 130 casinos in Oklahoma, owned by 31 tribes – facilities that range in size from travel shop stops with fewer than 50 electronic games to behemoths offering thousands of electronic options and myriad table games. The big boys kick it up to Las Vegas levels.
Speaking in poker terms, here’s a hand with four aces – Oklahoma’s largest casinos. I’m betting you’ll have a great time at any of these locations.
WinStar World Casino
You can’t miss it if you’re driving on I-35 north of Thackerville, as a string of the world’s most famous buildings stretches across the western-facing façade. Take your walking shoes along for this one – the gaming area stretches a mile and a half, while visitors trek through areas spotlighting some of the world’s greatest cities: London, Madrid, Rome, Beijing, Paris, Vienna, Cairo and New York City.
Bars and restaurants are scattered along the way. Choices range from fast food joints to upscale eating in El Fenix, a Tex-Mex restaurant, Capisce Restorante Italiano and steaks and seafood at The Grill. But don’t worry if those don’t hit the spot, because there are a dozen other options.
Guests enjoy one of almost 100 table games in the WinStar Casino.
Accommodations include the two-towered WinStar World Casino Hotel and the Inn at WinStar. There’s also a handy RV park.
If you’ve broken the bank or just need to take a break, there are other opportunities for relaxation and entertainment: Hotel guests can enjoy either the family-friendly hotel pool or the more sophisticated resort pool, and summer Friday and Saturday nights feature 21-plus nighttime pool parties with music, drinks and dancing. For the ultimate in relaxation, schedule a visit to the Spa at WinStar.
Golf is a big deal here. Another nine holes should be finished this summer, giving golfers 36 holes total, accompanied by a couple of practice areas and classy golf carts equipped with GPS. One unique feature here is the Golf Academy, which includes high-tech equipment such as GEARS motion capture programs and SAM (Science and Motion) analysis.
Choctaw Grand Casino
Grand really does describe this casino complex. Outstanding elements of this Durant facility include the amazing pool setup and the hotel, which is one of only eight AAA Four Diamond hotels in Oklahoma. This is also the most family-friendly of these casino resorts.
Diners will find a dozen choices at the Grand – everything from Smashburger to the upscale 1832 Steakhouse. Go western with beer, barbecue and a mechanical bull at Gilley’s.
The District offers fun for the whole family with 20 bowling lanes, a 40-game arcade and a two-story laser tag area. A four-screen, state-of-the-art movie theater shows first-run movies every night.
The Spa is large and well equipped, including two elegant couple’s rooms complete with whirlpool, soaking tubs and rain showers for two. In addition to the usual services, there’s a traditional barbershop.
The Oasis Pool area features four tropical pools, a swim-up bar, private cabanas and a waterslide – definitely a Las Vegas contender. There are six different hot tub/spas, fire pits and lots of chaises for lounging.
Hard Rock Casino
Catoosa’s Hard Rock Casino was the first to embrace a big-name brand, and the glitz that goes with it. Public areas are studded with artifacts from the stars – past exhibits included a white tiger jacket from Stray Cats member Brian Setzer, one of Eric Clapton’s guitars, a Suzy Creamcheese shirt belonging to Elvis Presley and one of Madonna’s dresses. Exhibits are on loan and rotate in and out, so you never know exactly what you’ll see – but it’ll be cool.
Betcha can’t beat the Brutus Burger Challenge at the Hwy 66 Diner. This two-pound cheeseburger comes with fries and a shake. Other eateries at Hard Rock include McGill’s on 19, fine dining atop one of the hotel’s three towers, southern favorites at Toby Keith’s, The Buffet and a double-handful of other options.
Like the other casinos, Hard Rock has a spa – The Spa. The signature service here is the Hot Rock Massage – a play on the hotel’s name and the warm stones used in the delightful procedure.
Located adjacent to the hotel complex, the championship Cherokee Hills Golf Club was designed in 1924 by Perry Maxwell and updated by Tripp Davis. Tulsa’s trees and rolling hills make this one of the state’s most attractive facilities.
This Tulsa casino and hotel is a two-fer. The original River Spirit Casino is right on the banks of the Arkansas River, with a watery theme carried out in the hotel’s blue ripple-patterned carpets and Caribbean colors, plus a beautiful new high-rise hotel and the light, bright and lively new Margaritaville Casino – feel free to let your inner Parrothead out.
There are fast food choices and the obligatory buffet, but for fun, you can’t beat Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Restaurant. A seaplane hangs from the ceiling and a volcano erupts on schedule, pouring “lava” into a giant blender. This is the place to get a Margarita – but the food is fine, too. River Spirit is also home to the only Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Oklahoma. Great steaks, obviously, but my heart was won by the crab stack appetizer’s combination of lump crab meat, diced mango, avocado and cucumber with a Sriracha mayo drizzle.
Emerge Spa at River Spirit is one of the most attractive facilities in the state. The spa menu includes facials, massage and body treatments, waxing, mani-pedis and extensive salon services.
There’s no golf course here, but the entire city of Tulsa is at your feet. Enjoy the River Trail, which goes right by River Spirit, or take a break and check out the city’s wealth of great art and entertainment venues.
Casino resorts also offer plenty for visitors for whom gaming isn’t a big attraction. Luxurious hotels, great dining, spas, golf, retail shops and more are attracting guests to properties that would feel at home on the Strip – but aren’t jammed up next to one another. All of the biggest facilities have concert/event venues and book top talent; check their calendars for names such as Santana, Reba McEntire, Jerry Seinfeld and Diana Ross.
For a great getaway, put your money on any of these big four properties. Whether or not you do any gambling, you’ll still be a winner.