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Dakota Magic Casino & Hotel

Supporting a region

Written by Sarah Wolfe Produced by Brandon Bloch

Sixty miles south of Fargo, ND, in Hankinson, is Dakota Magic Casino & Hotel, a prime destination for gaming and entertainment. "We're the only casino in the country with 'magic' in its name," CFO Weston Quinn points out with a chuckle.
Supporting a region

Sixty miles south of Fargo, ND, in Hankinson, is Dakota Magic Casino & Hotel, a prime destination for gaming and entertainment. "We're the only casino in the country with 'magic' in its name," CFO Weston Quinn points out with a chuckle.

The flagship of the Dakota Nation Gaming Enterprise, the casino is owned and operated by the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe on reservation land. The for-profit group also includes Dakota Sioux Casino & Hotel and Dakota Connection Casino. The three venues trace back to 1986 when former Chairman Russell Hawkins started a bingo hall in South Dakota - the state's first Indian gaming establishment, later calling it Dakota Sioux. Dakota Connection followed a couple years later in Sisseton, SD.

"Dakota Magic opened in 1995 as basically a pop-up tent to see how it would do in the community, and then it took off," Quinn says. "We've been adding improvements ever since to keep up with rapid growth."

Approximately 650,000 guests from the main market in Fargo as well as surrounding communities visit Dakota Magic each year for its diverse offerings, leading to more than $100 million in annual revenue. Set on 80 acres, Dakota Magic's casino features 95,000 square feet of space with popular table and video games and more than 900 slot machines for gaming enthusiasts. For golfers there's Dakota Winds Golf Course, sprawled across 65 acres of rolling green prairie dotted with ponds and creeks. Technically there are 27 holes, but the course is unique in having a reversible back nine, which is changed every two weeks.

Dakota Magic also features luxury hotel rooms, restaurants including the Exit 1 Lounge and Seven Fires Grille (open 24/7), and a workout center to burn off extra calories from decadent desserts and drinks. Additionally, there's a conference center and an entertainment venue that hosts big-name talent.

"We attract top acts like Bruce Springsteen and Tracy Bird," Quinn says. Former Poison frontman Bret Michaels appeared in late May, and Bill Engvall and Randy Travis are scheduled for summer.

New this year, Dakota Magic has also added Mixed Martial Arts events. "We've started marketing more toward the 30-year-olds to freshen up the customer base," Quinn says.

PROFITABILITY AND GROWTH
Quinn joined the Dakota Nation group fresh out of North Dakota State University, taking a training position as an assistant controller. From there he worked his way up as a controller between Dakota Sioux and Dakota Magic, finally settling in at the latter. He was appointed CFO in April 2008.

Quinn says Dakota Magic stands out from its competition because of its profitability and growth. Its casino is built for 500 slot machines, but is now at more than 900. The annual growth rate is four percent.

"We're expanding very quickly, so we're focused right now on building our infrastructure at Dakota Magic. We just constructed a new wastewater treatment plant that will process all the water and use some of it to irrigate the golf course. And we have plans to add another floor with an additional 40 rooms to our hotel, so we'll be at three levels," Quinn says. "We're also building a new office building for our workers."

The last major project of the Dakota Nation group was two years ago when it built a brand new Dakota Sioux facility.

SUPPORTING TE COMMUNITY
Despite the current economy, the casino hasn't felt any dramatic effects, especially in relation to Minnesota where car plants are closing their doors, Quinn says. He explains that a majority of North Dakota's industry is in agriculture, and revenues are heavily based on the planting and harvesting seasons.

Before the gaming enterprise, the tribal community - as well as surrounding residents, faced high unemployment rates, particularly in Dakota Magic's area.

"There's nothing around the casino for 30 miles - it's out in the middle of nowhere," Quinn says. "We're actually supporting a lot of the small communities around us with a workforce. And, unlike a lot of the other tribal casinos, we're next to the interstate instead of down winding back roads, so it's easier access for staff and guests."

Dakota Magic donates a considerable amount to agencies like the Boys and Girls Club and to surrounding tribal governments that need help in paying for ambulance service and law enforcement.

BENEFITS AND TRAINING
Dakota Magic's employees receive a strong benefits plan that's unmatched in the region.

"From what Blue Cross/Blue Shield and our company consultant say, we have the best benefits package within 200 miles. BCBS thinks it might be even farther out than that," Quinn says.

In regards to hiring, each of the three casinos sends new staff to training courses that include safety and Title 31 training - which addresses money laundering, what to look out for in gaming areas, and how to report issues. They also strongly emphasize customer service and maintaining Dakota Magic's friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Interns from North Dakota State University and Minnesota's Concordia College regularly take full time jobs at the casino upon their graduation.

PARTNERSHIPS AND EXPANSION
The Dakota Nation group contracts out for its expansion projects and tries to use tribal vendors often, maintaining many long-term relationships. Its partnerships include Pepsi, Williams Gaming, IGT, Aristocrat, Cadillac Jack and Bally Technologies.

Quinn says five years ago Dakota Magic's machines were all coin-based, but now they comprise only 20 percent of the floor. Redeemable ticket machines have replaced employee service stations and cut staff. The next upgrade will be swiping player's cards.

"We're pursuing technology," he says. "Table games as an industry, however, have been at a decline - they're starting to disappear in Indian casinos. Twenty years ago we used to have three pits at Dakota Sioux and now we have just one."

Despite this trend, Dakota Magic and its sister casinos are looking ahead, aimed at staying current and expanding to meet customer demand. "We've outgrown the facility at Dakota Magic," Quinn says. "We're hoping to start with the architects on the hotel expansion project within two years."
 

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