Though Indian gaming represents only 5% of all gambling in the United States, it is the fastest growing industry in the world. As gambling has proliferated and become more competitive, casino design has changed dramatically. Today, designers are creating highly themed entertainment resorts.
This article looks at how masonry has been used in four recent casinos built on Indian reservations. Harrah's Smoky Mountain Casino in Cherokee, N.C., was designed to feel like a mountain lodge. Stone was a natural material for local artisans who had already done this type of work. General contractor Bucky Watson of Retenbach Constructors Inc., Knoxville, Tenn., helped two Cherokee masons get insurance and provided forklifts and other equipment to move all of the individually picked stones from the mountains. The two masons, brothers, were employed as subcontractors and paid by the tonnage of stone supplied and the square footage of stone laid. In addition to the stonework, Native Americans performed other construction tasks, such as installing carpeting and electrical wiring.
Opened in November 1997, the $82 million, 175,000-square-foot casino is the only casino of its kind between Tunica, Miss., and Atlantic City, N.J. The Cuningham Group has designed nine other casinos around the country, seven of them for Grand Casinos Inc. On several of its other casinos, it has used burnished or split-face block at the base of buildings, to take advantage of block's durability and look. On some of the Indian casinos built in Arizona, natural stone is used to give the buildings a traditional look, similar to buildings the local Indians built hundreds of years ago. Some of these ancient stone structures, with mortar packed into joints by hand, still stand on Arizona's high plateaus. Sun Valley Masonry has worked on several projects on Indian reservations over the years. The greatest challenge of such work has been trucking in the materials and equipment. Some sites are on plateaus 5,000 to 7,000 feet high, so inaccessible that during the winter, the Indians sometimes must have food air-lifted in.
Fort McDowell Casino was built on the Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Indian Reservations, just east of Scottsdale, Ariz. To build columns, planters and a waterfall at the entrance to the casino, Sun Valley used Sedona red and classic oak snapped-face sandstone. For the Gila River Casino on the Gila River Indian Reservation, near Chandler, Ariz., Sun Valley used chocolate sandstone to build simulated Indian ruins. Etched into a glazed concrete masonry wall inside the main lobby of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan's casino in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., is a picture of a soaring eagle. It is a fitting symbol for the first two gaming buildings built at The Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort, which were constructed of architectural loadbearing concrete masonry and designed as a multipurpose facility, in case an Indian gaming pact would not be approved. In 1993-1994, after Michigan
Governor John Engler signed an Indian gaming compact, the Saginaw Chippewa asked Goudreau to design a 26,000-square-foot addition to the casino. In the 18 years architect Al Goudreau has been designing buildings for Indian tribes, things have changed a lot. In the past, when projects were funded through government programs, Indians had little or no input in planning. Now that Native Americans are funding projects themselves, they have more input and have become more knowledgeable of the building process.