AP Photo/The Tulsa World , Stephen Pingry
Confetti flies during the grand opening of the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on August 3, 2009.

Rock ‘n’ Roll: Cherokees Celebrate 20 Years of Gaming From Bingo to Hard Rock

Brian Daffron

What debuted in 1993 as a nearly 41,000-square-foot bingo hall in Catoosa, Oklahoma, staffed by 80 people, has grown to become a 1.3 million-square-foot resort run by 1,534, plus 182 corporate employees.

Gaming within the Cherokee Nation has made leaps and bounds from the Cherokee Bingo Outpost to today’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, featuring 454 rooms, 98 suites, an 18,000-square-foot convention space and several restaurants dispersed from the ground level to the 18th floor.

Rock memorabilia ranging from Elvis Presley to Katy Perry is displayed alongside homegrown Oklahoma rockers such as the Flaming Lips and Kiowa/Comanche guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. Original Cherokee art is also featured throughout the hotel and casino. Displayed above front entrances are song titles such as AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock, We Salute You” as well as Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”—in both Cherokee and English.

Although the basis of the location was founded among the sounds of bingo callers and the furious blotting of ink daubers, Cherokee Nation phased out its bingo operation in 2004, changing its name to the Cherokee Casino Resort, featuring a seven-story tower and the nearby Cherokee Hills Golf Club. Shortly after the 2004 opening, the first table games under Oklahoma’s gaming compact with the tribes found the way to the floor, featuring non-house banked card games such as blackjack. The evolution of the location culminated into its current form as the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in August 2009.

Current gaming offerings at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino include a poker room with 12 poker tables, 33 gaming tables on the casino floor, and over 2,300 electronic games. Additional entertainment options are live music concerts at the massive, 2,700-seat The Joint. Upcoming shows will feature Lionel Richie, John Fogerty, Harry Connick Jr., and the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

“As a Tribal Council member for 12 years and now as Chief, I have witnessed firsthand the evolution of this property and what it means to our people and this region of Oklahoma," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker in a statement released by Cherokee Nation. “The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is the flagship business enterprise for the Cherokee Nation and is a microcosm of our overall businesses growth over the last 20 years. Monies generated from Hard Rock allow the Cherokee Nation to be good partners and neighbors to all Oklahomans.”

For more information about Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, visit www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com or call (800) 760-6700.