With the rest of the region’s construction economy at a standstill, Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino is in the midst of a massive expansion project employing nearly 1,000 workers.
“We’re kind of creating our own gravity in terms of labor and resources,” said Erik Sneed, project manager for the casino expansion.
The expansion of the casino and hotel began in 2009 and is slated for final completion in 2012. The $600 million project will dramatically increase the casino’s gaming capacity and transform the hotel into one of the largest and finest in the country.
Sneed said Harrah’s has designed its gaming expansion to be flexible enough to be easily adapted if the casino reaches an agreement with the state of North Carolina to bring live dealers to the gambling floor. The casino will go from 3,400 games to 4,700 — 160 of the new additions will be table-based.
In May, the first phase of the bigger gaming floor will come on line, claiming the former entertainment pavilion and performance stage. The new casino area, unveiled with an earth/water-theme, will house 750 additional games and a brand new full-service bar in a non-smoking environment.
In June, another phase of the casino’s expansion will bring an additional 1,000 games on line.
Another characteristic of the new gaming marketplace is adapting to the Asian gambling profile. Feeding off its success at other casinos with Asian gamblers, Harrah’s will add an Asian gaming room featuring Pai Gow poker, baccarat and a nearby traditional noodle bar.
The casino’s expansion reflects the newest trends in the gaming industry. The whir of the slots, the clinking of the coins, and the neon lights have given way to interactive LED lighting displays and electronic debit swipe cards.
The new casino addition is designed as an open, airy environment that draws the outside in by incorporating natural light.
“We’ve really tried to embrace the outdoors and connect well with the creek and the outside surroundings by using lots of glass,” Sneed said.
A newly landscaped green space around Soco Creek, featuring native river cane and reeds, will integrate the casino and hotel into a park-like campus. When the façade of the hotel is complete, the green roof of its porte cochere will be an architectural centerpiece.
The hotel expansion will crown the 37-acre casino complex with a dramatic 21-story high rise — the third and biggest hotel tower yet — featuring glassed-in luxury suites up to 2,000 square feet in size.
The casino’s expansion is a sign of ambition, but it’s also a response to a practical reality. Last year, Harrah’s Cherokee purchased over 77,000 rooms off-campus for casino guests, as their on-site hotel accommodations were consistently maxed out. The expansion will nearly double the hotel’s room capacity from 532 rooms to 1,001 rooms with 107 suites.