Making the News

Pensacola News Journal

Originally Published:Sunday, December 23, 2007

But that doesn't mean bingo gambling can't be successful, said gaming industry analyst Joe Weinert, senior vice president for the New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group.



With all the sounds, spinning reels and lights of slot machines, video bingo games are virtually indistinguishable from slot machines. Electronic bingo has proven to be extremely popular.



He points to the success the Seminole Tribe in South Florida has had with electronic bingo at its six properties.



"They are grossing over $1 billion a year," he said. "It certainly can be lucrative."



Can a bingo resort in Atmore compete with nearby Mississippi's full-scale casinos?



"Absolutely," Weinert said. "It's not just the kind of games that determine how successful a casino will be. It's the experience, customer care and amenities as well."



If Wind Creek Casino Hotel and Resort offers quality restaurants and comfortable rooms and entertainment, "it could go toe-to-toe with some of the properties in Biloxi," he said.

Dollars & Change
Atmore, Ala., is a portrait of small-town America, but life is about to speed up for its 7,600 residents.

By Michael Stewart
Pensacola News Journal

ATMORE, Ala. — This is small-town Alabama, about 50 miles northwest of Pensacola.

Farmers and lumber haulers can be found bellying up to a booth at Buster's Restaurant or B&T's Texas-Style Barbecue.

Just down the road from the popular eateries, you'll find Elite Barber Shop and Dannie's Beauty Corner, located in the same small building where men enter in the front and women in the back.

Inside, a narrow hallway separates the barber shop and beauty parlor.

"The men don't want to put up with all the women talk and the women don't want to put up with theirs, either," former shop owner and beautician Dannie Bradley said. "It's worked that way for 30 years."

Many things have remained the same in Atmore. And when change does come, not everyone is happy about it.

Barber Randy Dorriety said an 87-year-old client tells it best.

"He said he's seen a lot of changes over the years and that he was against every one of them," Dorriety said.

There's something new coming, however, that has many of Atmore's 7,600 residents excited.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has embarked on a venture some believe could transform the community into a gambling mecca, rivaled in the area only by the casinos along the nearby Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Work has begun on a $250 million, 16-story bingo palace. Some residents hope Wind Creek Casino Hotel and Resort will generate hundreds of jobs and spur economic growth. It is now tentatively slated to open in 2009.

Tribe officials said they are still in the process of securing funding in New York City but declined to provide further details.

"We would see increased traffic that would come right through downtown Atmore," said Emelie Mims, executive director of the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce.

Pickern Groceries owner Danny Pickern said many residents have high hopes for the new casino.

"This would bring in much-needed jobs — good-paying jobs with benefits," he said. "There are so many of our residents who are having to go out of town for work."

Creek Indian Enterprises President Tim Martin said the new casino and hotel under construction is expected to create 700 new jobs. That's not counting construction workers tasked with building the upscale resort and the indirect impact of increased demand for goods and services from local businesses.

The city, for example, has purchased 650 acres across from the proposed casino for commercial development hoped to spark a major growth renaissance.

What amenities the casino will offer has not yet been determined.

"We are currently still in the planning stages of our expansion," Poarch Creek Tribal Chairman Buford Rolin said. "But we look forward to unveiling our final plans in the next few months and hope the community will attend the official ceremony and share our excitement and optimism about our future endeavors."

Nothing new to tribe

Gaming isn't new to the Poarch Creek tribe.

One of the three casinos Poarch Creek Indian Gaming has in the state is located on the reservation located north of Atmore. The Creek Entertainment Center has grown over the years from a small, traditional bingo palace to include more than 1,000 electronic bingo machines with all the clanging bells of a Las Vegas-style casino.

Work has begun on the new casino and hotel, and steel girders of the new building rise three stories high behind the Creek Entertainment Center.

The old building will eventually come down to make way for Wind Creek Casino Hotel and Resort, Martin said.

So far, the tribe has not been able to reach an agreement with the state of Alabama that would allow card games and forms of gambling other than the electronic bingo machines.

Martin said he doesn't expect that to change in the near future.

The tribe has sought for more than two years to try and get the federal government to intervene and allow other forms of gambling at its three Alabama facilities in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery.

But that doesn't mean bingo gambling can't be successful, said gaming industry analyst Joe Weinert, senior vice president for the New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group.

With all the sounds, spinning reels and lights of slot machines, video bingo games are virtually indistinguishable from slot machines. Electronic bingo has proven to be extremely popular.

He points to the success the Seminole Tribe in South Florida has had with electronic bingo at its six properties.

"They are grossing over $1 billion a year," he said. "It certainly can be lucrative."

Can a bingo resort in Atmore compete with nearby Mississippi's full-scale casinos?

"Absolutely," Weinert said. "It's not just the kind of games that determine how successful a casino will be. It's the experience, customer care and amenities as well."

If Wind Creek Casino Hotel and Resort offers quality restaurants and comfortable rooms and entertainment, "it could go toe-to-toe with some of the properties in Biloxi," he said.

Most days, the parking lot of the Creek Entertainment Center is packed with cars, and the draw will be even bigger once the new resort opens with its spas and luxury suites, many predict.

Annie Nowak said because of construction, she's already seen an influx of new faces at her coffee shop, Annie's Community Cup, where you can order a sourdough grilled cheese sandwich some customers say is the best they've ever tasted.

"I think it will be a positive thing," Nowak said. "I think Atmore will grow from this experience."

Most days at Buster's Restaurant you'll find a group of old-timers discussing whatever topic that catches their fancy.

Among them you'll usually find Atmore residents Doug Vicker, David Smith and Doug Godwin, all in their 60s.

Vicker said he isn't against gambling and has done more than a little of it himself in the past.

That doesn't mean Vicker doesn't have reservations about the new casino, though. For one thing, he wonders how the city's two-lane road through the middle of town will handle increased traffic.

"Who's going to pay for the road work?" he asked. "We're going to need more deputies and police. Who is going to pay for that?"

 

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