FireKeepers Celebrates a Decade of Success and ‘Heart’

FireKeepers Casino Hotel rang in its 10-year anniversary this month.

Kathy George, FireKeepers CEO, attributes the resort's success to one thing: If someone asked me the word for what makes FireKeepers so special, I’d say heart. Click To Tweet

“I think the heart of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, and the heart of the 1,800 employees of FireKeepers, is really what makes it special,” she continued. “In 10 years, what we have accomplished from the service standpoint, but also the impact we have made both on the Tribal community and community as a whole, is something I’m really proud of. There are so many casinos in the state of Michigan,” George said of the 23 Tribal casinos across the state, “but we really distinguish ourselves by our heart, and it shows everyday, and I think that’s really what makes the difference.”

In August 2009, the then-$300 million FireKeepers opened in Battle Creek, Michigan. The gaming establishment has since expanded to feature an eight-story, resort-style hotel along with five restaurants, an event center, convenience store and gas station, downtown restaurant and food pantry. Currently under construction, a second hotel tower will be erected in December 2020.

FireKeepers CEO Kathy George (Courtesy FireKeepers for Native Business)

Former FireKeepers CEO R. Bruce McKee, who held that position until retiring in 2015, recently returned to the 111,700-square foot gaming floor to offer some perspective on the casino’s substantial strides over the past decade.

“Talk about starting from scratch — there was nothing here but a corn field. 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,” McKee shared. “The country was heading into a 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.

The resort increased its presence, entering the sports arena by sponsoring a Symetra Tour golf tournament at the Battle Creek Country Club in 2014, then the FireKeepers 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in 2016.

“When the Tribe opened the casino, Full House Resorts was their management partner” through 2015, said George, a member of the Seneca Nation who served as General Manager and Vice President of Hotel Operations at FireKeepers for more than 7 years before becoming CEO in May 2017. “They were able to build such a strong management team and executive team that they actually bought out the contract with Full House Resorts.”

In 10 years, year over year, the casino has exceeded its financial goals. “We’ve been able to increase for all 10 years that we’ve been open. That’s a great milestone,” George said. “But more importantly, the Tribe gives us the opportunity and the ability to provide for the community by building the food pantry and a downtown restaurant for nonprofit purposes.”

The FireKeepers Local Revenue Sharing Board has provided nearly $200 million, or $192,717,102, to the state, local governments and area schools since opening in 2009. “The Tribe is a wonderful partner to the community, and it really gives us a sense of purpose beyond just serving our guests. We’re serving a community,” George said.  

Today FireKeepers employs a staff of about 1,800 people, as one of the largest employers in Battle Creek. The casino has retained an astounding 303 employees since its opening day 10 years ago.

FireKeepers has amassed a number of awards over the past decade, including being named the Employer of the Year for the state by Michigan Works! Association this year.

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