A more than 40-year veteran of the gaming industry, Pat Crofts got his start at age 21 in the 1970s working for a Las Vegas-based CPA firm whose primary client was the Howard Hughes casino empire. “He owned about 15 or 20 casinos in Nevada at the time. As a kid from a small, southern Utah town, I moved to Las Vegas and I’m immediately in the count rooms at these very exciting casinos. I fell in love with the business,” Crofts says. “It was more than just the casino business, it was hotels and restaurants and golf courses and RV parks.”
Crofts went on to hold positions with Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) and Harvey’s Resorts. He also launched IGT/CMS International. “We were 50 percent owned by IGT, which is a large gaming manufacturer, and 50 percent owned by myself and some other partners,” Crofts explains.
Through that venture, Crofts owned and operated several casinos in Nevada and the Caribbean. That’s only the cusp of his international experience. With American Heritage, Inc., Crofts took on projects across South America, the Caribbean and even in Macau. He describes the early casino construction in Macau like Atlantic City in the 1980s “but on steroids.”
Crofts was actually introduced to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation as an outside consultant through international casino management firm the Navegante Group. “We were helping the Tribe get the financing to build phase one of River Spirit Casino,” Crofts explains.
Crofts must have made a good impression, because the Nation brought him on as CEO. When Crofts came on board in 2011, the Nation operated nine casinos and two travel plazas. “The business at the time was being operated as nine separate silos, with a board of directors over all nine. One of my first mandates was to centralize those enterprises and get everybody working under the same culture and with the same business practices — becoming one company rather than nine companies,” Crofts says.
Today, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation operates 11 gaming facilities throughout northeastern Oklahoma, the largest of which is River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa. The flagship property opened in 2009, and the $365 million expansion debuted in 2016, doubling the gaming space with the attached Margaritaville Casino, and adding a 27-floor all-glass hotel tower, a special-events venue, an upscale spa, a resort pool, a 2,500-seat showroom theater, and multiple new bars and restaurants. Within its first six months of opening, the hotel garnered the prestigious Four Diamond Award from AAA, placing River Spirit Casino Resort in the top 6 percent of all AAA approved properties in North America.
“It’s a fantastic facility in Tulsa,” says Crofts, adding, “That was a first for both Margaritaville and Ruth’s Chris — being in a Tribal casino environment. It was also a big deal bringing international companies like that to Tulsa.”
In May 2019, River Spirit Casino Resort made national headlines when the Arkansas River flooded. “Our property was completely surrounded by water,” Crofts says, “and we were shut down for a 30-day period. It was a major feat — getting operational just 30 days after.”
During that challenging time period, Crofts had 1,600 employees at River Spirit Casino Resort to think about (across its properties, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos employs 2,200 people). “We made a decision while we were shut down to pay all of our employees their full salary and benefits,” he says. That team-first mentality is central to Crofts’ leadership style.
People often ask Crofts how he amassed such an impressive resume of industry experience — from management and ownership in gaming and hospitality, to executive positions with private, public and Tribal companies that run domestic and international operations. His greatest advice is to “be patient, because it’s not going to happen overnight,” and to keep learning. “Keep current on technology and keep bettering yourself,” he says. “Take every opportunity you can to learn something new about your business.”