The world’s biggest casino is getting even bigger.
Winstar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla., a popular destination for Dallas-Fort Worth gamblers, will open its new 240,000-square-foot, 6,500-seat entertainment venue, Lucas Oil Live, in October. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band headline the venue’s first concert Oct. 13, followed by acts representing a variety of genres.
“I don’t think there’s a comparable venue like this in the [D-FW] metro,” said Jack Parkinson, senior general manager of Winstar. “Just for sightlines, sound systems and intimacy, you’re probably going to be struggling to find something like this.”
The space is cavernous, but even the nosebleed seats at the very top and back have a close view of the stage. Seats are spread between three levels, including a floor area that can support temporary seating or a pit, depending on the performance. The stage could fit an NBA basketball court, according to Jessica Haisler, marketing assistant general manager, and two large LED screens bracket it on either side.
Lucas Oil Live is the crown jewel of Winstar’s latest slate of multimillion-dollar improvements.
Beginning with December’s opening of the Spa Tower hotel, which connects with the venue, the Chickasaw Nation showplace added a two-story spa and a five-acre pool complex called Cascades in May. The additional 304 hotel rooms bring Winstar’s total to over 1,700. The golf clubhouse was also redone, and new restaurants and bars were added.
“This is probably the biggest expansion that we’ve done,” Parkinson said. “But it’s more satisfying because it brings everything together as a property.”
In a departure from the world destination-themed styling that is Winstar’s hallmark, Spa Tower emulates the modern, serene design of resorts across the world. Haisler emphasized the importance of texture in all the new additions. Dark, warm wood and sleek stone are the design motifs that permeate the building, whether it be granite lamps in front of wood paneling in the spa’s lounge area or the backsplash at the pool bar.
Those same motifs are found inside Lucas Oil Live, which feels as much an extension of the hotel as it does a venue made for stars like Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, who are coming later this year. The venue has extensive suite and VIP spaces, all outfitted with abstract wall decor that doubles as sound dampening, and both the outdoor entrance and concert space walls feature minimalist linear light fixtures.
The goal is to transform Winstar from just a massive casino gaming floor that spans over 400,000 square feet into a premium, holistic resort experience.
“We have a five-acre pool, a multilevel spa, and you can go see Rod Stewart at the same time and have a really nice gaming experience,” said Dan Boren, secretary of commerce of the Chickasaw Nation. “That experience evolved from just, ‘Hey, we’re gonna spend a few hours and then we’re gonna go home,’ to ‘We may stay here for a few days.’”
Stewart’s November concert at Lucas Oil Live is already sold out, and other artists like Tim McGraw are getting close. Through focus groups and other market research, Winstar knew the demand was there for live entertainment, and it’s paying off. Indianapolis-based Lucas Oil, which produces high-performance automotive lubricants and additives, struck a deal earlier this year for naming rights to the venue.
Before COVID-19, Winstar had a smaller venue that it converted to additional gaming space during the pandemic, meaning Ringo Starr and his band will be the first concert in over three years.
About an hour to the east, though, Choctaw Casino and Resort’s Grand Theater, a 3,000-seat venue, has been hosting acts since 2012 and the Durant location recently added a 21-story luxury tower in 2021 in its own $600 million expansion.
As the two largest casinos in Oklahoma and both just over the Texas-Oklahoma border, Winstar and Choctaw often compete for D-FW business with resort-style amenities. Casinos in Oklahoma grossed more than $4.5 billion in revenue in 2022, according to the American Gaming Association.
“We term it friendly competition. Every time that one of us adds a new venue or a new amenity to our properties we make ourselves better … A rising tide lifts all boats,” Boren said. “At the end of the day, the dollars that we generate from these facilities go back into vital programs and services for Chickasaw citizens.”
The Chickasaw Nation employs more than 14,000 people and brought in revenue of $3.3 billion in fiscal 2021 from its 23 gaming establishments and other business ventures, according to the tribe’s most recent financial report.
Boren said the Winstar additions brought over 500 jobs to the area and another 500 full-time positions will be added to support them. He expects the new attractions to make “a real impact” on the local economy, as high-profile acts come through Lucas Oil Live and attract more tourists and fans.
“The things that we do have a direct impact on making sure that seniors have access to medical care, making sure that Chickasaw children go to summer camp and to a good college or university,” Boren said. “It’s not just a business. It’s much, much more.”
Coming to the stage
Here is Lucas Oil Live’s initial lineup of artists:
- Oct. 13: Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band
- Oct. 14: Gabriel Iglesias
- Oct. 21: Miranda Lambert
- Oct. 27: Zac Brown Band
- Nov. 3: The Beach Boys
- Nov. 5: Rod Stewart
- Nov. 10: Leon Bridges
- Nov. 11: Whiskey Myers
- Nov. 17: Peter Frampton
- Nov. 18: Smokey Robinson
- Nov. 24: Katt Williams
- Dec. 1: Travis Tritt and Pat Green
- Dec. 2: Tim McGraw
- Dec. 9: Ryan Bingham and Texas Gentlemen with Charley Crockett
- Dec. 14: Randy Rogers Band featuring Casey Donhew
- Dec. 15: Kevin Hart and friends with Chelsea Handler and Tiffany Haddish
- Dec. 16: A Johnny Mathis Christmas
- Dec. 31: Blake Shelton
- Jan. 13: Boyz II Men