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River Spirit – Revisited

Glyn Thomas talks to Pat Crofts CEO of Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos

Back in 2013 we interviewed Pat Crofts, CEO of Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos, about the ambitious plans that lay ahead for the group at the River Spirit Casino. A $365 million project was planned to add a 27-story, 500-room hotel, additional food and beverage outlets, a 2,600 showroom theatre, 1,500 parking spaces and enlarge the gaming capacity with 850 extra slots and 20 more tables. A significant portion of the expansion would be branded under the signature of “Margaritaville’ – linked to the existing casino. Reported as the second largest construction development in the state of Oklahoma this was not a project that could be taken lightly.

Some two years on we caught up with Pat to gauge progress.

So, Pat, did your plans come true at the River Spirit?

The dream is coming closer to reality each day. We just poured concrete for the 24th floor of the hotel tower and the exterior glass curtain wall has been installed up to the 17th floor. The low rise podium portions of the project are nearly shelled in. We will be able to work throughout the winter without weather interruptions and are on target for September 1, 2016 opening of the Margaritaville casino, restaurant and retail along with other restaurants, convention center, retail and the parking structure. The high rise hotel tower and showroom theatre will open mid-December 2016.

In addition to the amenities previously announced we have added two more Margaritaville venues: a Landshark Landing Pool Bar and a Margaritaville Coffee Shop. We will be announcing the addition of a high end, national brand Steakhouse in the very near future as well as a full service Spa.

The whole package is coming together nicely and will transform the River Spirit Casino into an upscale regional destination resort. Our partnership with Margaritaville, along with drawing power from other national brands, will assure a successful opening and operation of the property.

Recently there was speculation about how the group would address budget shortfalls to the gambling budget. How was that resolved and does it have an impact on the expansion of River Casino?

This issue was incorrectly reported and never had18any potential (or real) impact on the expansion project. It was not applicable.

Back in 2013 you also alluded to other plans to refurbish other properties within the portfolio. How did that work out?

We are in the process of remodelling and/or expanding several of our other ten gaming facilities. Some are under construction now and others in design and approval stages. We have recently completed remodels and expansions at three of our properties including Muscogee, Okmulgee and Duck Creek Casinos. The remodels all include common elements, colors and design to create an identifiable theme and appearance for Creek Nation Casino properties. A complete remodel/refurbishment project at our Eufaula Casino property is under way and will open before New Year’s Eve.

Some of the remodel/expansion projects include the addition of hotel rooms in addition to gaming, food, beverage and retail elements. Feasibility studies are in process for these expansion projects. We will continue to reinvest in all of our properties.

You recently announced the appointment of Andy Langston, previously Assistant General Manager at River Spirit Casino as your COO – how will Andy be able to help you in the next few years?

Andy has been instrumental in the River Spirit Casino expansion project as well as the remodel and refurbishment projects at our other casino properties. He has taken responsibility for daily operations at our gaming facilities and made significant improvements to each of them.

We have a tremendous challenge ahead of us in recruiting, hiring and training 600 to 700 new employees in addition to making sure all pre-opening and start-up issues are addressed for the River Spirit Expansion Project. We are also remodelling and upgrading existing venues and amenities at River Spirit Casino so they will be complimentary and integrated into the expanded resort facility.

Andy’s guidance and oversight will be a key component of our future operations and growth. He is a very talented and effective leader for us.

“We are fortunate to have Andy in this position due to his background and experience,” said Pat Crofts, CEO of Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos. “Not only is he serving as a member of our Gaming Operations Authority Board, he has held several senior operational management positions at both large and small Creek Nation Casino properties.”

Langston’s duties include operational responsibility over the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s eleven gaming operations and implementing strategic plans and programs. In addition, he will devote a significant amount of time on the River Spirit Casino Phase II Expansion project that is currently underway.

Construction and expansion plans aside ultimately casinos are about service and in your case keeping your stakeholders happy.

As time progresses and you have got a handle on each casino, it’s performance and potential. Do you see your job becoming easier or are there new challenges?

There are always new challenges. That is the nature of the gaming and hospitality business. Complacency is not an option and you must continually monitor and improve operations as well as reinvest in your facilities and human resources.

We have an aggressive long-term Strategic Plan that will not allow us to sit back and admire our past accomplishments. It’s always full speed ahead.

Finally, is there a game-plan to expand further or do you see a period of consolidation in the future?

We do have some long term opportunities for other expansion included in our Strategic Plan, but have a lot on our plate in completing the River Spirit Casino expansion project and the remodel/expansion projects at our existing properties which we are concentrating on short to mid-term. Our long term plans do include future expansions.

Pat Crofts is an executive with over thirty seven (37) years of management and ownership experience in the gaming and hospitality industry, having held executive positions in multiple jurisdictions with several major private and public gaming companies with domestic, international, Tribal and non-Tribal operations.

Currently CEO of Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos, responsible for the daily operations as well as strategic direction and development of eleven (11) gaming facilities located in northeast Oklahoma. Operations include over 6,500 electronic gaming machines and table games, multiple food and beverage outlets, entertainment venues and retail outlets with approximately 2000 employees.

In addition to duties as CEO, Pat has served as a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Economic Development Committee responsible for Tribal economic development / diversification/