Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Okla., a hop, skip and a jump from Northwest Arkansas, is brewing its own craft beer, its latest move to lure customers with choice food and drink offerings as well as gambling.
Lucas Setterfield, executive chef, and food and beverage director at the casino operation, said he jumped at the chance to add the small brewery when space became available next to the Legends Sports Bar and Restaurant.
He said the small brewery setup he saw at a gambling expo seemed perfect for the space -- a spot that used to be dedicated to a nonsmoking gambling area. Dubbed Downstream Crafted Brewing Co., the brewery has a small footprint, at just 120 square feet and at full capacity puts out about 400 gallons of beer every 10 days.
"It's just about perfect for us," Setterfield said, noting the production levels are just right, since beer will be sold at the casino and not bottled or canned.
The craft beer is being offered starting today at the Legends Sports Bar and Restaurant in a promotional event called Tap the Craft that starts at 11 a.m. Those buying a Downstream Crafted Brewing Co. beer receive the choice of a free pint glass or T-shirt featuring the brewery's logo.
Some experts in the industry said a casino brewing its own craft beer is pretty unique.
Steve Bourie, writer and editor of the American Casino Guide, said that while he knows of a handful of casinos that brew their own beer, Downstream's operation is a rarity among American Indian-owned casinos.
Bart Wilson, chief economist of the Brewer's Association -- a group that promotes small, independent brewers -- said casino-breweries aren't specifically tracked by the group. He said the only one he knows of is Feather Falls Brewing Co. in the Feather Falls Casino and Lodge, run by the Mooretown Rancheria of Maidu Indians in Oroville, Calif.
Oklahoma, with 20 breweries, ranked 43rd in the U.S. for number of breweries in 2016, according to the Brewers Association, but ranks 50th per capita with 0.7 breweries per 100,000 adults over age 21. Arkansas ranks 38th in the nation with 28 craft breweries as of 2016 and ranks 41st per capita.
Setterfield said the House Brew System by Reno, Nev.-based Global Beer Co. fits the casino's needs perfectly. The two-tank setup is computer controlled and uses premixed formulations of ingredients. A price tag of about $90,000 compared with about $1 million for a more traditional brewing setup was also attractive, Setterfield said. Two Downstream employees have become certified brewers and were given the chance to oversee the brewing process.
Domestic beers are still the major sellers at Downstream, but the craft beer is the opportunity to give customers something unique to the casino, Setterfield said.
Owned and operated by the Quapaw tribe, Downstream Casino Resort uses cuts of beef and buffalo from its tribal cattle company, flowers and vegetables grown in its own greenhouses, honey from its own beehives, and coffee from its own roaster, in its day-to-day offerings to customers. It employs about 1,100 people, with 300 working in food services.
The casino sits in the corner of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas and is the largest casino complex close to the Arkansas border, with 374 hotel rooms and suites in two tower buildings. It boasts more than 2,000 slot machines, 36 table games, a poker room, a variety of dining options, a full-service spa, and several entertainment venues.
Five Oklahoma tribes operate casinos that include hotels along Arkansas' western border, all of which feature restaurants and entertainment. While gambling remains a key revenue source, industry watchers have said for years that modern casinos must offer a variety of experiences if they want to stay competitive and lure customers from neighboring states and away from local competitors.
The tribes in Oklahoma booked $4.214 billion in revenue in 2015, up 6.7 percent from $3.950 billion in 2014, according to the Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report. Nongambling revenue in Oklahoma for 2015 totaled $667 million, up 4.7 percent from $637 million for the year earlier.
Arkansas has no tribal-owned gambling, but betting is allowed on greyhound races at Southland Park in West Memphis and thoroughbred horse races at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. State law allows gambling on electronic devices at the racetracks that are similar to devices offered at out-of-state casinos.
Downstream Crafted Brewing has two offerings so far -- an American red ale called Flat Rock Red and a European pilsner called Craft House Kolsch. Both are available on tap at Legends.
Setterfield said that later in the year, when Oklahoma's laws overseeing brewers are adjusted, there will be more opportunities to produce a wider variety of offerings, perhaps using the casino's own coffee or honey from its hives.
"At that point we'll be able to brew whatever we'd like," Setterfield said.
SundayMonday Business on 01/21/2018
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