Travelers who are looking for an elevated gaming and resort experience today aren’t limited to Las Vegas. While Oklahoma may not seem like a destination for high rollers, the city of Durant is home to a newly expanded tribal casino and resort that matches anything they might find on the strip.
JCJ Architecture (JCJ) recently completed a 2 million-square-foot, 1,000-room expansion of the Choctaw Casino & Resort Durant that elevates the guest experience and sets the tone for future growth of the property—all while harmonizing with the existing site and integrating an authentic representation of Choctaw history and culture.
“Part of the challenge was trying to add a thousand rooms for a sizable hotel in a way that was respectful to the existing campus and worked in proportion with what was there,” said Amy Hull, design principal and studio leader for JCJ’s Tulsa office. “The goal for that property was—even though it was very successful—it was in need of, [the client] said, ‘upping their game.’”
Designed and built in collaboration with Tutor Perini Corporation in an accelerated 30-month timeline, the expanded property centers around a 21-story, luxury Sky Hotel Tower that ascends from an expansive three-acre resort pool and offers increased gaming and entertainment opportunities, amenities, restaurants and a world-class, curated collection of Choctaw art.
Respecting Tribal Culture and Values
One of the largest federally recognized tribes, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is a tribe of artists, professionals, musicians, storytellers, innovators, leaders, athletes, warriors and caregivers. Drawing upon a decade-long collaborative relationship, the design team at JCJ consulted closely with members of the Choctaw Nation to realize the tribe’s mission and contribute to the community’s economic resilience beyond the casino campus.
Native tribes vary in their views on blending their culture and religion with gaming, and the Choctaw Nation lands somewhere in the middle, preferring a more subtle approach, according to Hull. “We do research on the history of the tribe, and we look at patterns from their native clothing or from their old housings, and we will implement patterns subtly and purposely,” she explained.
“The Prizm Lounge was meant to be kind of the beacon, the anchor of the new casino floor, and it’s the center of all the activity,” Hull said. “And so that entire [sculptural] element was meant to be the highlight from both directions,” connecting the old and new casinos.
Similarly, the aptly named Sky Tower—the tallest building on the campus—features abstract tribal artwork reminiscent of clouds and sun that is carried through all the way to the carpet patterns in the guest rooms. In fact, every piece of artwork in the property is by a member of Choctaw, whether more traditional or contemporary.
“We took it one step further as this project evolved, and the more and more art we were able to place throughout the property, their marketing team came up with this art walk, and there’s a QR code by every piece of art throughout the property,” Hull explained. Guests can scan each code to learn more about the artist, the history of the piece and the Choctaw Nation.
“It’s kind of this living museum,” Hull said, adding that it’s been gratifying to see guests get drawn in by the artwork and learning about tribal culture—not something you’d expect at most casinos.
Luxury, Inside and Out
JCJ’s design dissolves the line between the indoors and out, achieved through strategic programming of outdoor spaces, biophilic elements, daylighting and multidirectional outdoor views. For example, the reception desk frames views of the outdoor pool bar and pavilion, beckoning guests to enjoy the oasis beyond.
“This grand stair—we designed it very early on, and it actually straddles the columns for the casino floor and the hotel tower,” Hull recalled. “The idea of that whole space was to be this separation from the high activity on the casino floor to give you a little place to meet your friends or bring you into that nice atmosphere before you go up to the steakhouse for dinner. And so, we worked with Sapphire lighting on that light fixture and they did a great job for us.”
Spacious layouts and custom casegoods offer guests a 4-diamond experience at every level of guest room. With 843 standard rooms and 157 suites (comprising four suite types) dispersed across the four facades of the tower, there is bound to be a room style and unique view to meet every guest request.
Elevating Tribal Gaming
“This project has definitely successfully shown that you don’t have to go to Vegas to get the full casino hotel resort experience, and so I think that’s been great for the region and definitely all for native gaming,” Hull said. “This property and this expansion, to me, is showing that casinos can go beyond gaming, that the industry is really growing, [bringing] non-gamers to the property as well and really create these destinations that fit everybody.”