ONAWA, Iowa — The Omaha Tribe on Wednesday reopened its casino near Onawa, more than 18 months after closing it because of declining business and regulatory troubles.
Some 200 to 300 people showed up for the grand opening. “It was extremely busy,” said Bill Walsh Sr., who heads a tribal subsidiary that oversees the casino, located on reservation land on the Iowa side of the Missouri River, about five miles northwest of the Monona County city of Onawa.
The New Casino Omaha offers 420 new coinless slot machines. The last shipment of machines arrived just this week, Walsh said. Most were operating Wednesday, while the rest should be up and running by today, he said.
Walsh said some opening-day customers hit big jackpots.
“I believe in loose machines, and people walking out with money,” he said.
Table games such as blackjack and roulette won't be available until next year, he said.
About 90 workers are staffing the casino, which will operate around the clock on weekends and from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays. Hiring preference was given to Native Americans, who made up the majority of the 185 workers who lost their jobs when the casino closed on June 30, 2009.
The shutdown, blamed in part on a poor economy and management problems, cost the tribe a major source of revenue. The National Indian Gaming Commission, which recommended the casino voluntarily suspend operations due to some regulatory violations, has authorized opening the casino.
The tribal council put new internal controls in place, forming a three-member board to oversee the operations.
Tribal officials also brought in Walsh, a 46-year casino industry veteran with experience around the globe and a reputation for turning around troubled gaming facilities.
The gaming floor also was given a modest facelift, and new restrooms were installed. The casino restaurant remains closed, however.