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Find newcomers’ luck at recently opened casinos

From the mountainous Four Corners region in Colorado to the industrial setting of a former steel plant in Pennsylvania to a historic resort in the mountains of West Virginia, casinos across the country continue to expand their horizons, and some states have relaxed betting restrictions to draw a wider audience.

Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

On the site where the historic Bethlehem Steel plant once produced steel for classic American monuments such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sands Casino Resort opened in May encased in similar steel beams.

“We designed the property to give homage to Bethlehem Steel,” said Jason Nibauer, vice president of brand marketing for the casino resort. “We are at the core of the Bethlehem Steel site. We are the largest brownfield redevelopment site in the country.”

The casino opened with 3,000 slot machines, six restaurants and a range of entertainment options. Among the wide array of dining options are the St. James Gate Irish Pub and the more upscale Emeril’s Chop House, which remains the only restaurant by renowned chef Emeril Lagasse in the Northeast.

In November, the addition of 250 slot machines and electronic table games, two restaurants and a lounge were another step toward the casino’s long-range plan. Other upcoming projects include a 302-room hotel modeled after the Palazzo in Las Vegas, a 200,000-square-foot shopping center and a 48,000-square-foot multipurpose space.

FireKeepers Casino
Battle Creek, Michigan

In August, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi opened the $300 million FireKeepers Casino off Interstate 94 midway between Detroit and Chicago.

One of the largest casinos recently opened in the Midwest, the casino has 2,680 slot machines, 78 table games and a 120-seat poker room on a 107,000-square-foot casino floor.

The five restaurants include the Mijem Buffet, with cuisines from around the world, and the upscale Nibi, which pairs meat and seafood with fine wines.

“We also have an air-handling system that draws fresh air in from outside, funnels it into the gaming floor and takes any smoke to the ceiling,” said Michael Facenda, director of marketing for the casino. “It is very effective and enables both smoking and nonsmoking guests to be very comfortable here.”

Wind Creek Casino and Hotel
Atmore, Alabama

In January, the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama opened the Wind Creek Casino and Hotel — the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ third casino. The tribe built the casino on some of their original tribal land in Alabama, which they had managed to keep, unlike many other southeastern Native American tribes that moved west.

The 225,000-square-foot facility features more than 1,600 electronic gaming machines, a 236-room hotel and a spa. High arched ceilings and custom woodwork and stonework give a stylishly earthy feel to the facility’s interior. An indoor waterfall and rock wall provide a backdrop for the Center Bar, which acts as a centerpiece on the main floor.

The casino also showcases four restaurants, hands-on cooking classes and live entertainment weekly. Classes include such wide-ranging options as grilling, culinary basics and seafood, with an instructor walking groups through different recipes.

Sky Ute Casino Resort and
Conference Center
Ignacio, Colorado

In the midst of the rugged mountain landscape of the Four Corners region in Colorado, the Sky Ute Casino Resort and Conference Center opened its 45,000-square-foot casino in November 2008.

Warm colors, stone construction and other design aspects remind guests of the Sky Ute tribe’s influence on the casino resort.

“Our facility was designed with a subtle relation to the Sky Ute tribe,” said Ben Fernandez, executive director of marketing and sales for the casino. “As you are going through, you’ll see beautiful paintings and signs of the culture. We aren’t a museum, but we wanted just enough cultural details to get a taste of what the tribe is all about.”

Guests can dine at any of five restaurants, relax in one of 146 hotel rooms and try to win big at poker tables, a bingo hall, six blackjack tables and more than 550 slot machines. For fun aimed at a wider audience, the casino resort also houses an arcade room, a seasonal minigolf course and a bowling center.

In July, Colorado’s Amendment 50 went into effect raising the maximum bet from $5 to $100 and allowing craps and roulette, helping to draw additional gamblers to the casino.

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino
Tulsa, Oklahoma

In August, the former Cherokee Casino Resort became the only Hard Rock Casino in America’s heartland following a $155 million transformation, including $2 million in rock-inspired music memorabilia.

In addition to Toby Keith’s 350-seat I Love This Bar and Grill, the expanded casino also includes 30,000 square feet of additional gaming space and a luxury hotel tower with 200 rooms and suites.

Four other dining venues, the Cherokee Hills Golf Club championship golf course and the Hard Rock retail store offer further amenities beyond the 2,300 electronic games and 70 table games.

The Greenbrier Tavern Casino
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

Another amenity was added to the National Historic Landmark Greenbrier Resort when it opened the Greenbrier Tavern Casino on an interim basis in October. The 3,700-square-foot casino features 44 slots machines and 10 table games.

A main casino with a luxuriously styled interior modeled after the Monte Carlo Casino is scheduled to open at the Greenbrier in April in a new underground complex beneath Greenbrier’s front lawn. A dramatic grand circular staircase flanked by waterfalls will lead to the casino.

“It will be a spectacular facility, very elegant and unlike anything anyone has seen before,” said resort owner Jim Justice.

The casino will also have upscale retail and dining areas.

Ohio and Maryland join ranks

The national economy apparently played a role in creating new gaming opportunities in Maryland and Ohio.

On Nov. 3, Ohio voters approved casinos in four of the state’s largest cities — Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo — after several previous votes over the past 20 years had failed.

A University of Cincinnati study predicted the casinos would generate more than 39,000 jobs in a state with 10 percent unemployment.

Ohio becomes the 39th state to allow casinos. The Legislature has six months to pass enabling legislation and the first casino could open in 2012.

Earlier this year, the Maryland Video Lottery Location Commission joined several other states by expanding its gaming offerings to include slot machines in conjunction with horseracing. In September, the commission awarded Ocean Downs Racetrack the first slot license in the state; officials hope to open the track by Memorial Day.

Financial pressures from the recession influenced the state’s decision to allow slot machines after years-long debate on the subject. The state has allotted a maximum of 15,000 slot machines, so many expect the state to award more slot licenses soon.

Ocean Downs plans to transform the 34,000-square-foot grandstand into a gaming area for up to 1,500 slot machines. Harness racing already runs live at the track from June through August, and simulcast racing is available all year.