FireKeepers Casino celebrates a decade of growth

BATTLE CREEK (AP) — Henry and Pat Jones were visiting Michigan to see family and tour the state’s casino circuit.

Earlier this month, the Florida couple made a stop at FireKeepers Casino, which was celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

As ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money” played over speakers and flashing lights from nearby slot machines illuminated his face, Henry Jones remarked, “There’s a lot of slots, a lot of tables, good food and good drinks… We were here two weeks ago and won pretty good.”

FireKeepers Casino Hotel is owned and operated by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi. The $300 million project officially opened in Emmett Township on Aug. 5, 2009.

Former FireKeepers CEO R. Bruce McKee, who served in that role until retiring in 2015, returned during a presentation on the MoneyKeepers main stage at the 111,700-square foot gaming floor to offer some perspective on how far the casino has come.

“Talk about starting from scratch — there was nothing here but a corn field,” he remarked. “In 2008, I couldn’t help but sense the hesitancy of everybody I seemed to meet. And rightfully so.”

“This was sort of an unproven market. Nobody was sure what the results might be. The country was heading into a recession — later to be known as the Great Recession — and nobody was really sure where rock bottom would be. Casino results across the country were declining. Nobody was lending money to anybody, let alone casinos,” McKee said.

FireKeepers Casino Hotel has since expanded to include an eight-story, resort-style hotel plus five restaurants, an event center, convenience store and gas station, downtown restaurant and food pantry, the Battle Creek Enquirer reported.

A second hotel tower is currently under construction on the sprawling campus, and is expected to be completed by December 2020.

The casino and hotel group also entered the world of sports when it began sponsoring a Symetra Tour golf tournament at the Battle Creek Country Club in 2014 and the FireKeepers 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in 2016.

“I think one of the best things about Battle Creek and the whole area is we are supported by everybody,” said Kathy George, FireKeepers CEO.

“The tagline is, ‘Where you get your Vegas on.’ So we’re kind of bringing that a little bit here — from great restaurants to great entertainment — the tribe has an economic development corporation looking at other businesses in the area. For the casino, the sky is limitless.”

FireKeepers is one of the largest employers in Battle Creek with a staff of roughly 1,800. George said 303 employees remain from its opening day 10 years ago.