Fireworks lit the sky. Thousands of visitors watched in anticipation. It was a big day for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. That day in February marked the grand opening—in fact, an earlier than anticipated opening—for the new Choctaw Casino Resort.
It all started in 1987 when the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma constructed a one-story bingo hall in Durant, Okla. By 2006, after compacts were approved, a new facility was constructed. Then in 2007, the Choctaw Nation realized it was time for a revamp. A new and spectacular look was to come. WorthGroup Architects provided this for the property, designing an expanded facility that would give the tribe a new identity and provide much needed hospitality amenities.
Lisa Jelliffe, director of marketing and business development for WorthGroup, explained how the project started: “The tribe expressed a vision of an iconic design that’s grand in scale, creates an exciting approach and is visible for miles. The new brand identity was developed as a high-end, four-star property with luxurious amenities including a spa, high-end dining, oasis pool area and natatorium.”
WorthGroup’s design response was an abstraction of symbolism combined with organic forms and patterns creating a contemporary sculptural exterior that hints at the geometries of the new resort’s interiors. Each of the main exterior elements has a distinct character and creates a stunning first impression. “The complex interlocking forms of the porte cochere, the rhythmic patterns of the promenade, and the undulating skin of the hotel tower appear to be in motion giving great energy to the overall exterior design at the new Choctaw Casino Resort,” Bryan Hamlin, vice president of design, noted.
Of course, the resort’s design also puts much focus on the individuality of the Choctaw Nation and showcases the rich culture and heritage of the tribe through interpretive design and tribal influences.
According to Hamlin, the most unique design element is the hotel tower’s sculpted skin. The concept was to create a “skin” that would act as a canvas receiving full spectrum light washes, transforming its overall appearance, creating a vibrant beacon visible for miles. “Our real surprise for the owner was to activate, for the first time, a test color animation sequence on the rippled skin of the tower, demonstrating the versatility of this sophisticated control system which will allow us the flexibility to animate the lighting vertically, horizontally and diagonally,” Hamlin said. “Upon approach, the fusion of sculpted form and mosaic of light will leave an unforgettable impression on guests arriving at the resort.”
And that stunning first impression continues through the entire property. At the entry plaza, combined Choctaw geometries from artwork, basketry, beadwork and sticks were incorporated to create a variety of patterns. The lines of the crossed stickball sticks have special meaning to the tribe. These connotate, “may our paths cross again and again.”
“Responding to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s request for a signature fire and water sculpture at the entry, a dramatic design was developed originating geometrically from the unique beadwork patterns of the tribe,” Jelliffe commented. Above the rapids of an encircling pool, multiple-height water obelisks combine with floating 18-foot fire rings to create a spiral motion. The oblelisk stone surface is custom designed and built and painted to match special interior slate materials inside the lobby. Each obelisk features a dimensional cap containing color sequencing coordinating with the hotel tower’s light show. This stunning feature is 90 feet across and more than three stories tall.
The water ribbon sculptures’ design explored how water and light could be incorporated into rippling shapes that mimic the lines of the hotel tower. Multiple materials were tested, including stainless steel, perforated metal, marble, granite, slate and hand-tinted concrete. “The final design creates a playful shape during the day as the sunlight passes through its waterfall elements and completely changes character during the evening, transforming into an illuminated monument leading your eye to the new resort,” Jelliffe explained.
Created as an entry sculpture in itself, the porte cochere is a combination of inspirations from symbolic elements and shapes. The three main interlocking forms are abstractions of the skin pattern from the western diamondback rattlesnake.
In the lobby, a symbol considered sacred to Native Americans—a white buffalo sculpture—greets visitors. “The overall concept for this unique piece respectfully integrates the symbolic white buffalo into the lobby waterfall in an abstract yet identifiable form,” Hamlin said. “We worked with three different glass manufacturers to produce something that would create the impression of crystal.” The final casting was made with about 1.2 million individual glass tiles.
Inside the casino, the gaming floor continues the design elements from outside. Providing guests with a variety of gaming experiences, five “zones” work together to establish the cohesive visual branding. Stemming from the Choctaw Nation’s ancestral artwork, the casino ceiling is a complex illuminated geometric sculpture suspended over each zone. The “Entertainment Zone” boasts a distinctive diamondback lounge and higher ceiling areas. The sculptural “High Limits Zone” dominates the central casino floor and becomes the main focal point. The “Food and Retail Zone” is host to the buffet, food court, Blue Moon Café, steakhouse and retail venues. Illuminated private stairs or dual elevators will bring you to the “Poker Zone” with a poker room, poker balcony and VIP poker room where you can experience a glowing glass portal at your feet and overlook the activity of the casino below. Finally, the “Party Pit Zone” is a high-energy space designed to be an exciting discovery of color. Beadwork and distinctive wooden arcs span vertical supports rising from the gaming floor, and glowing amber patterns are in stained glass within the sides of the supports. Stone and wood columns throughout the casino are adorned with cube-shaped sconces infused into the structure.
For a tranquil finish to an exciting evening of gaming or dining, just walk to the 330-room hotel tower. A rich palette shifts from one color to another across the corridor creating a sense of movement and change. The owner’s vision of natural and regional earth elements flow across the floor from the carpeting to the walls. Diamond-shaped ceiling coffers with mirrored interiors, and custom designed, illuminated room signage, light the journey and create signature elements to mark the entries to the guest rooms.
Also in the hotel tower is the 12th-floor executive suite. “This overlooks the western landscape and provides fabulous scenic views,” Hamlin commented. “As you enter this space, you will be amazed by the two-story floor to ceiling windows and walk-out balcony that is an iconic element of the tower. From beautiful artistic pendants and floor-mounted light towers to the intricate application of wood flooring and inset stone tile, this suite will fill the senses and captivate your imagination.”
Indeed, the Choctaw Casino Durant is a spectacular building that pays homage to its tribe, and is sure to be a player-favorite destination.
Owner/Operator: Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Developer: Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
General Manager: Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Architect/Interior Design: WorthGroup Architects