CREOLA, La. (AP) — The Jena Choctaw Pines Casino in Grant Parish is expected of open soon.
"People sometimes have lower expectations when it comes to Indian gaming," said Philip Pepple, general manager of the casino being built in Grant Parish. "I think this is one of those times people will truly be impressed
The casino, developed after many years of trying by the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, is nearing completion. It is about 60 percent done and is expected to open in January.
"It's finally going to be a reality after many years," tribal Chief B. Cheryl Smith said. "This has been our goal for about 20 years. We've had a lot of devoted leaders working on it. I'm as excited as I can be that it's finally coming true."
The casino is located off U.S. Highway 167, just north of the Alexandria/Pineville area. It will be a Class II casino, meaning it can have gambling machines but not table games such as blackjack or roulette.
The Town Talk reports (http://townta.lk/TyUpjt ) the casino is expected to employ about 300 people.
The first phase of the project is a 46,000 square foot gambling floor that includes 700 machines and a poker room. The casino will have a buffet that can seat roughly 170 people and a sports bar with a capacity of about 75.
Tribal leaders are hoping to expand in the future. The next phase would more than double the size of the casino building, expanding gambling and restaurant space and perhaps adding meeting space. A third phase would add a hotel and entertainment venue to the property.
The timeline of future expansion has not been set.
"Based on how we get out of the gate will dictate the next phase of construction," Pepple said. "That clearly takes some time."
Patience is something the Jena Band of Choctaws has. The tribe has been exploring gambling opportunities for years, but met resistance.
The tribe had eyed Logansport as a potential location, but couldn't get state officials to sign off on a gaming compact. A compact was not needed at the current location because Grant Parish is considered part of the tribe's native land.
In 2001, local businessman Mike Wahlder donated more than 40 acres -- which includes the current casino site -- to the tribe.
Pepple expects the casino in its initial form to draw people from about a 100 mile radius.
The Jena Choctaw Pines Casino will be the third Native American-owned casino in Central Louisiana. The Tunica-Biloxi tribe operates Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville and the Coushatta tribe operates Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder.
Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com