WAYLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Gun Lake Casino is getting ready to open a $100 million addition to the already popular destination near Wayland.
Phase 4 construction started in October 2019.
“It’s been going great. The team here, Clark Construction and all their subcontractors, have been really hard at work, making sure that we stay on time, stay on budget, especially with all the COVID things that come up. They’ve been doing a phenomenal job,” said Jose Flores, vice president and general manager for the casino.
Flores said he’s most excited to add 200 employees to the team of 1,000 people.
“This is adult Disneyland, right? People come here to have a great time and we get to service them when they want to have that great time, so it’s a super fun place to work,” he added.
Months after a pandemic-prompted shutdown, the casino is now in the midst of a hiring blitz. Leaders hope a car giveaway for newly hired workers who are still with the casino in December will widen the pool of applicants.
“The hiring process has not been without its challenges. You know, you have to be creative in today’s market, coming out of the pandemic,” Flores said.
That includes raising wages more than 30% to $14 per hour for workers who don’t earn tips. The new rate for tipped employees also jumped last month from $5.63 to $7.40 per hour plus tips.
Flores expects construction on the phase 4 expansion to wrap up late this summer or early fall. Earlier this month, he took News 8 behind the wall separating construction workers from casino visitors for a sneak peek at what visitors will see:
EXPANDED GAMING FLOOR
Flores said the casino will add 500 slots and a dozen electronic table games as part of the roughly 75,000-square-foot addition to the existing 156,000-square-foot casino.
“If you like to play blackjack, craps, roulette, since they’re electronic, you can play them around the clock,” Flores added.
The new space replaces a portion of the casino parking lot on the south side of the facility. Visitors can find parking in a recently constructed parking structure north of the casino, in addition to nearby surface lots.
131 SPORTSBAR AND LOUNGE
TV monitors wrap around the back wall of the new multipurpose venue, which will have the ability to show pay-per-view events, according to Flores.
131 Sportsbar and Lounge will offer a full menu of “bar-type favorites” including burgers, chicken wings, salads, sandwiches, wraps and pizza, Flores said.
A stage at the heart of the lounge will host live entertainment during evenings.
Customers can rent a private booth inside the lounge or make a wager in one of the sports betting kiosks just outside the lounge.
Gun Lake Casino rolled out sports betting spot in October. In addition to this brick-and-mortar sports betting spot, the casino expects to launch online sports betting this month through its partner, Pennsylvania-based Parx Casino. Flores said the new service will be available through the casino’s smartphone app.
SPORTS BETTING AREA
Adjacent to 131 Sportsbar and Lounge is the casino’s new sports betting area, which Flores said will be staffed by a ticket writing agency.
“People that are new to sports betting may need a little bit of help, they want to talk to somebody about placing their bets… this is where you can come to get some assistance,” Flores said.
NEW SOUTH ENTRANCE
With the casino extending south, contractors tore down the original south entrance and rebuilt the entryway using glass.
“It lets in a lot of natural light into the building,” Flores said.
The updated entrance connects the expanded casino to a smaller parking lot running along 129th Avenue just east of US-131. Flores said the lot will include handicapped-accessible spots and spaces for tribal elders and other visitors.
SECOND NONSMOKING PARLOR
Adjacent to the new south entrance is another nonsmoking slot parlor.
“When we went to the design board with this concept, we were a smoking facility indoors. We have a nonsmoking (area) on the other side of the building, so we wanted to add to that on this side of the building,” Flores explained.
The parlor was built before Gun Lake Casino announced it was shifting to a smoke-free facility as part of its pandemic safety protocols.
While the pandemic is easing, the casino’s indoor smoking ban remains for now. Flores said the casino will balance advice from Gun Lake Tribe Health & Human Services with feedback from team members and guests in determining whether to keep the casino smoke-free.
“Obviously a lot of people have a lot of opinions on it, right? Some guests are pro-smoking, some guests are negative on smoking, team members are on both sides of the fence and it’s difficult to get one solution that appeases everybody,” Flores said.
The casino says the parlor will retain its original purpose, as a room with additional gaming amenities for guests.
“We want to understand and try to make the decision that makes as many people happy as possible. It’s a difficult one to make though,” he added.
CRAFT BAR KITCHEN
Craft Bar Kitchen, also known as CBK, will celebrate all things craft — from burgers to beer.
“The craft beer industry here in Grand Rapids and really throughout Michigan in general is exploding. We want to be able to support those vendors. We know that our guests love those brands — we want to offer them here, kind of a one-stop shop,” Flores said.
More than 100 varieties of beer will be on tap or in bottles and cans “so you can certainly work your way through that menu and experience a lot of the best of what Michigan has to offer,” Flores said.
The restaurant will also source a lot of its food from local farms.
CBK will be open for lunch and dinner daily. The outdoor patio will feature fire pit tables, a standalone bar, TVs and overhead fans to keep guests comfortable during their al fresco experience.
Visitors sitting inside can also get a taste of the outdoors.
“On both sides (of the restaurant) we’ve got collapsing walls, so this can be an indoor-outdoor space when the weather is right in Southwest Michigan,” Flores said.
CBK will also have its own stage for live entertainment. The restaurant can hold up to 192 guests, casino officials say.
TWO-STORY KEG COOLER AND HIGH-TECH TAPS
This high-tech ode to beer is embedded in one wall of CBK.
The two-story cooler holds 100 kegs stacked from floor to ceiling. The casino says a mechanical lift is used to load each keg.
Dozens of taps located below the cooler feature electronic screens that describe each draft and allow servers to pour precise glasses with the touch of a button.
Considered “the premier dining venue for the property,” this restaurant will serve up steaks, pastas, traditional American fare and some tribe favorites, including a fry bread appetizer and wild rice soup.
Small fireplaces behind the bar will hold three fires representing the Gun Lake Tribe Confederacy, according to Flores.
A large fireplace divides the chophouse into two dining areas, including a space for long communal tables. A private dining room located at the back corner of the restaurant will seat up to 16 people. Casino officials say the entire restaurant can hold 194 guests.
Shkodè will be open five nights a week.
SHARED INDUSTRIAL KITCHEN
A sea of stainless steel will greet restaurant staff when they walk into the casino’s new “monster” kitchen.
“This is a phenomenal kitchen. Our executive chef Josef (Huber) is very excited getting our culinarians on board and getting them in here and firing everything up and doing our practice runs and getting everything ready for the game,” Flores said.
The industrial space houses two kitchens, one for the new chophouse and the other for CBK. Harvest Buffet and Sand Hill Café will continue to operate out of the casino’s original kitchen.
Casino fans who have been following the expansion are also in for a surprise: Gun Lake Casino has added a cigar lounge to its plans.
Flores said the cigar lounge won’t open with the rest of the phase 4 expansion, but Gun Lake Casino hopes to welcome its first guest before year’s end.
With customer demand growing, Gun Lake Casino is already designing its next expansion. The phase 5 plan calls for a 250-room hotel that could potentially host concerts, meetings and conventions. It’s expected to include a heated indoor pool and spa.
“I think the ultimate goal is to create a resort destination. Without lodging today… you either have to stay off property or limit your stay. You can’t be here overnight a couple of days. So it’s really about expanding our reach to guests,” he said.
Since opening 11 years ago, Gun Lake Casino has injected more than $35 million into local communities through revenue sharing, according to a report released by the tribe in February. Its community outreach has included donating lifesaving equipment and a K-9 to the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office and $100,000 to Allegan County United Way to fund free books for area children through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Flores said the casino has also helped the tribe toward its ultimate goal: self-governance and self-sufficiency.
“They’ve been able to build their police department, build their government infrastructure, provide services to their citizens… provide scholarships in the community. So it’s really been, quite a blessing to the tribe,” he said.
Flores said only time will tell how much more the larger casino will help.
“We’re just looking forward to see what business looks like coming out of this pandemic,” he said.