Photo courtesy Oneida Nation Museum
Former Oneida Nation Chairman Rick Hill (center, holding shovel) breaks ground with other Business Committee and community members for what would become the Oneida Casino in this photo from Dec. 11, 1992.
The summer of 2019 brings with it a celebration of a quarter-century of prosperity for the Oneida Nation fueled in large part by the successes of the Oneida Casino. Throughout the month of July, the Oneida Casino will be hosting its 25th Anniversary Celebration to commemorate the success Indian Gaming has had on the Oneida Nation and surrounding communities.
“We signed our compact with the State of Wisconsin in 1991 and at that time we built a facility attached to the Irene Moore Activity Center (IMAC),” Oneida Nation Gaming General Manager Louise Cornelius said. “We immediately began planning for this Main Casino and opened in 1994, and here we are 25 years later so this is a very exciting time for us. My philosophies and beliefs on how to be successful are providing excellent customer service, having good communication, and having good compliance with all the rules and regulations. I’m certain we’ll have continued success.”
Some of the early community concerns about the Oneida Nation’s burgeoning gaming operations have long since subsided, but they have not been forgotten. “Much of the early opposition centered around the fact that gambling was taking place,” Cornelius said. “Gambling can be a form of addiction, so shortly after we began this operation the State of Wisconsin, as well as the tribes, developed Gamblers Anonymous and we now make an annual contribution to that cause.”
When the Main Casino opened its doors to the public in July 1994 the Gaming Division employed 2,155 workers. Of those, 40 percent were enrolled Oneida Nation citizens. Today more than 50 percent of
Gaming Division employees are Oneida Nation citizens, and the Oneida Nation remains one of the top three employers in all of Northeast Wisconsin.
To stay on top of the gaming industry, the casino has undergone a number of changes in its 25-year history. Some of these upgrades include the addition of electronic table games, as well as a complete renovation of the food court area. The smoke-free mall area of the casino now boasts slot machines for customer use, and the addition of Lombardi’s Legendary Sports Bar & Grill has proven to be highly popular. The minimum age for entrance into the casino was raised from 18 to 21 when alcohol began being served.
Other changes involved moving the Poker Room from the Mason Street Casino over to the Main Casino, which included renovations to the high stakes slot area and the Executive Lounge. Perhaps the most noticeable changes to the gaming floor are the increased selections of table games. In 1994 the only table games option was Blackjack. Today, in addition to Blackjack, the Oneida Casino offers Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, Four Card Poker, Royal Match 21, Traditional Roulette, Rapid Roulette, Mini Baccarat, Craps, and Ultimate Texas Hold’Em.
To celebrate 25 years of successful gaming, the Oneida Casino will be hosting numerous events during the month of July. “It’s exciting to be able to celebrate a large milestone like this,” Cornelius said in recent press statement. “We’ve been Northeast Wisconsin’s #1 gaming destination for the past 25 years, and we’d like to celebrate this achievement with our entire community as a way of thanking them for our continued success.”
Two of the big promotions planned include a $25,000 Cash & Free Play Giveaway on Friday, July 12, and a $125,000 Free Play Giveaway on Thursday-Sunday, July 25-28. Table Games players who have qualifying hands from July 8-23 will be eligible for entries for a cash drawing on July 23 where 10 winners will receive $500 cash. Oneida Bingo will also be having various specials throughout the month. Poker will be hosting two No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em Tournaments on Thursday, July 25, at noon and 6 p.m.
Free lounge entertainment will take place throughout the month at the Main Casino, and some of country music’s most legendary acts like the Grits & Glamour Tour with Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, Hank Williams, Jr., and Sara Evans will be performing in the Three Clans Ballroom. For more information about events taking place for Oneida Casino’s 25th Anniversary, visit www.OneidaCasino.net or check out www.facebook.com/OneidaCasino.
The next 25 years of Oneida gaming appears to be just as promising as the previous, with new and innovative technology constantly changing the way casinos operate. For instance, all of Oneida’s slot machines were coin operated for many years. In recent years those machines have been replaced and now operate as a Ticket In, Ticket Out (TITO) system. The TITO system has proven to be a convenient upgrade for both casinos and players. Casino Slot Departments no longer need to constantly fill coin hoppers, and all players need to carry around is a slip of paper with their credit totals printed on it instead of big cups filled with coins.
“The future of Oneida gaming is technology,” Cornelius said. “Technology is always evolving and has changed dramatically for our guests and for us. The new generation of millennials that are coming up in the ranks love that competitiveness with technology so I’m certain that is how we will continue to grow.”
The next 25 years of gaming appears to be just as promising as the previous. With the Oneida Nation now having been long recognized as a leader in tribal gaming, many of the positive impacts the casinos have had on the Nation can be easily recognized. “Some of the positive things that come from the casinos are, of course, the revenue to sustain the Oneida Tribe,” Cornelius said. “Education, housing, jobs, and health services are now much easier to come by for the Oneida people as we continue to help sustain those programs.”