MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's largest casino project, the 17-story Wind Creek Atmore, will soon be eclipsed by the 20-story Wind Creek Wetumpka.
Both are owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and the tribe's gambling operations have thrived as the attorney general has put non-tribal casinos out of business.
Property manager Cody Williamson said Thursday the casino will open Dec. 17 and the hotel in late January or early February, which is five years after Wind Creek Atmore. The Wetumpka casino has 2,520 electronic games compared to 1,800 in Atmore. The Wetumpka hotel has 283 rooms compared to 236 in Atmore.
The $250 million project will replace a 1,182-game casino next door.
Project director Rob Lee of the Hnedak Bobo Group of Memphis, Tenn., said the curving designs throughout the hotel and casino represent the flow of wind and water. All hotel rooms are facing the Coosa River, which flows alongside the hotel and casino. "The views are pretty incredible," he said.
The centerpiece of the casino is a 16,000-gallon shark tank designed by the crew from the Animal Planet show "Tank."
The casino only has electronic games that Williamson describes as electronic bingo. There are no table games like the Mississippi casinos have.
Williamson said the entire project cost $250 million. It will replace a smaller casino the Creeks have operated next door with 1,182 games.
Williamson said the old casino attracted people mostly within a 75-mile radius, but the tribe expects the new casino and hotel to draw from a much wider area. He said the tribe has begun advertising in Atlanta, Birmingham and Huntsville.
Wetumpka, with more than 7,100 people, is 12 miles northeast of Montgomery. The hotel and casino won't pay sales, lodging and property taxes because they are on traditional tribal land. A $25 million parking deck is not on tribal land and will pay property taxes, Williamson said.
Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis declined comment on the impact of the hotel and casino because he is trying to negotiate an agreement with the tribe concerning services. But a downtown merchant, Donald Carey, owner of We-2 Gifts and Awards, isn't optimistic because the hotel offers five restaurants from fast food to white table cloth and has other amenities designed to keep people on site.
"Other than more traffic, I don't expect to see anything. People coming there are going to have anything they want there," he said.
Williamson said the Wind Creek Atmore led to the construction of two chain motels and some fast-food restaurants nearby. He said the existing Wetumpka operation employs 435 and will employ about 1,000 when the hotel and casino open. "When this place opens, everybody will know somebody who works here," he said.
The Poarch Creek Indians' casinos, including a 2,300-game casino in Montgomery that doesn't have a hotel, have grown since the state began shutting down non-tribal casinos, including VictoryLand casino in Shorter, 20 miles southeast of Wetumpka.
State Attorney General Luther Strange Luther Strange filed suit against the tribe's gambling operations in state court in February, contending the games are actually slot machines, which are illegal in Alabama. The tribe got the suit move to federal court on grounds that the state courts lacked jurisdiction. U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins is considering a request from the tribe to dismiss the suit.
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