“We opened up this section 10 weeks early, on Sept. 29th; in 40 years in the casino business, I’ve never seen a project open 10 weeks early," said Shawn Smith, Jackpot Junction Casino and Hotel's General Manager, standing in the new gaming room last week.
Five months ago, Shawn Smyth left his retirement home in Florida to move to Minnesota and supervise the final stages of Jackpot Junction’s remodeling. “I’ve been in the casino business since I was 17 years, and I just turned 66,” said Smyth, Jackpot’s general manager. “I’ve supervised over 20 major casino expansions, and this is by far the most complicated. There are seven separate phases we have to get through. The early phases were the infrastructure ones the public didn’t see.” And how is the remodeling going? Standing in the new gaming room last week, Smyth said, “We opened up this section 10 weeks early, on Sept. 29th. In 40 years in the casino business, I’ve never seen a project open 10 weeks early. “This was a very difficult project. Any time you try to remodel a business that’s in operation, it gets very complicated,” said Smyth. “We took everything out of the old building, tore the old building down, and two days later we were moving into the new one. That just isn’t done.” According to Gabe Prescott, Jackpot’s director of operations, the new remodeling was first proposed by the Lower Sioux Community leaders four years ago. “The facility is 30 years old this month, and the Lower Sioux Community decided to refresh and update the look,” said Smyth. Smyth said a main goal is to consolidate basically the same amount of square footage into a space that’s much more convenient for the patrons. “The previous facility was added onto and added onto over the years, and they ended up with an L-shaped facility,” said Smyth. “You ended up with a lot of very long hallways.This new facility will be much more compact, with much less walking for the guests.” One of the biggest challenges came from the fact that most of the power, water, and other infrastructure was built under the floors of the old site. Tearing it up while keeping the casino running every day had to be the first phase, which started over a year ago. “When you try to move something in a business that’s in operation, it’s like a Rubik’s Cube: moving one thing affects everything else,” Smyth said. Juggling all the departments has been a challenge. Bingo has been relocated into the Dakota Exposition Center, but should be making a return into its new home any day now. A new sports bar should be opening any day; the Gazette visited the day the new sound system was being put in on the new, enlarged dance floor and stage. Non-smoking patrons will quickly notice one of the least visible changes in the new facility. “We have the best smoke-removal system there is,” said Smyth. Hundreds of vents in the floor will constantly blow cigarette smoke up to the ceiling where it will be quickly whisked away. According to Smyth and Prescott, the general contractor is a Native American-owned company, with many local contractors filling in the details. Of the seven major phases, the final two are remodeling the existing casino space so that it matches the new decor. “Our target date to be completely done is in March of next year,” said Prescott, adding the community plans to keep going with new remodeling plans, such as for the restaurants. “Our goal is to be the best casino / hotel in Minnesota. We have the people and the mindset to do it, and the community has given us the tools to do it,” said Smyth. “And in March, when everything is done, then we’ll have a huge celebration.”