With all the talk about slot machines at horse racing tracks and legalized casinos, it’s easy to forget that there already is one legal casino in Texas.
As the busloads of seniors and other low rollers pulled in from San Antonio for a day of gaming at the Lucky Eagle Casino, demolition crews were busy tearing down an adjacent concrete dome.
If all goes well, by mid-2013, a new 250-room hotel and expanded casino will take the place of the ill-conceived dome built for concerts and boxing matches by an earlier tribal administration.
The scene neatly captures the dramatic changes of the past decade for the Kickapoo Indians, who still offer the state’s only casino gambling on their small reservation by the Rio Grande.
Peace and prosperity have replaced the upheaval, legal battles and insolvency that not long ago bedeviled the Kickapoo, allowing them to launch an ambitious development project that includes improved gaming facilities.
“The tribe is in extremely good health economically. We’re doing a $90 million improvement project, of which we’ll borrow about $50 million, with the rest coming from the tribe,” said tribal administrator Don Spaulding.
The money machine that makes it all possible, of course, is the glittering casino that never closes. Restricted to what is known as Class II gambling, one notch below Las Vegas-style gaming, the casino offers machine games, poker and bingo, and it caters to clients from San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley.
The tribe divulges little financial information, but did report that last year its casino had more than 1.1 million visitors and paid out more than $30 million in winnings.
“On July 23, we had a million-dollar winner. I think that was the biggest prize the casino has ever had,” said casino manager Robin Miller.
The facility will soon hold 2,500 gaming machines, up from 1,500 when Miller arrived two years ago.
With the planned improvements, she said, the Lucky Eagle will be more competitive with the big casinos in Oklahoma and Louisiana. And when the hotel opens, players will be able to make it more than a day trip.
I’m curious what, if anything, is the state’s take from this. If nothing else, the numbers from this casino, before and after expansion, will provide some objective basis for evaluating what a Texas with more legal gambling might look like.