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First phase of Meskwakis’ $111 million expansion done

New building features bingo hall, lounge for high-stakes poker

Elizabeth Kutter [News correspondent]

The Gazette

July 28, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    TAMA — Meskwakis have sweetened the pot for gamblers with the opening today of phase one of a two-year, $111 million expansion project at the Meskwaki Bingo-Casino-Hotel near Tama.

    ‘‘It smells exactly like a new car,’’ said Jason Kriegel, of the facility’s sales and marketing staff.

    A new bingo hall with space for 750 will open today.

    ‘‘That’s where it all began,’’ said Kriegel, a 13-year employee of the casino. He remembers when the only game the Meskwakis offered was bingo.

    The old bingo hall will be torn down to make way for a convention center and banquet hall.

    Guests will enter the new casino building through a glass entryway with fire pits burning brightly above water that cascades down stone walls.

    Tucked into one side of the gambling room is a luxurious high-stakes lounge that will allow bets up to $1,000 on a single hand of poker.

    Besides the new bingo hall and high-stakes room, new slot machines and additional gaming tables will open.

    An additional 250 to 300 employees will be needed to staff the expanded games, said Kriegel. The casino already is Tama County’s largest employer.

    The ambitious expansion project comes in anticipation of competition from casinos being built in Waterloo and Riverside.

    ‘‘We want to keep moving ahead,’’ said Bob Heyer, director of sales and marketing.

    When the second phase of the project is completed in early 2007, the facility will include more dining options, a luxury spa and new swimming pool and 200 additional hotel rooms — double the current number. A convention center will accommodate 1,000 for meetings and concerts or 600 for banquets.

    A new parking garage with space for 500 cars will open in October.

    The new gaming space that opens today will make way for double the number of gamblers, from 5,000 to 10,000, said Kriegel.

    Revenue from the casino, estimated at $3 million a week when figures were last available in 2003, has raised the 1,500-member tribe out of the poverty it faced in the 1970s. Profits have allowed for monthly dividend payments to tribe members and a healthy bank balance.

    The tribe has survived a disagreement among its members that led to the court-ordered closing of the casino for seven months in 2003.

    Jack Ketterer, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said the tribe has timed its expansion well and invested its money wisely.

    The Meskwaki project is on schedule, said general manager Dan Stromer. ‘‘There was a push at the last minute,’’ he said, ‘‘but I think everybody’s happy at this point.’’

    The Associated Press contributed to this story.

The entry to the new Meskwaki Bingo-Casino-Hotel building features glass, fire and a waterfall. Gamblers will find more slot machines and table games, a new bingo hall and a high-stakes room where guests can bet up to $1,000 on a hand of poker.