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Thriving Island Resort & Casino adds new steakhouse, hotel and water park

7 February 2022

Island Resort Casino General Manager Tony Mancilla

Island Resort Casino General Manager Tony Mancilla

Not even a global pandemic can slow down the perpetual momentum at Island Resort & Casino in the scenic Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Owned and operated by the Hannahville Indian Community, the casino resort, located about 100 miles north of Green Bay, Wisconsin, rang in the New Year by completing a staggering $33 million expansion that finished under budget and on time. The project includes 128 new guest rooms and suites, a high-end steakhouse with stunning views, and a water park that has been bustling with families and children on weekends ever since it opened the week after Christmas.

The new amenities were added to the property just three years after $8 million was spent on a new spa, adding a second championship golf course, renovating the Hannahville Bingo Room (the property originally opened as a community bingo hall over three decades ago) and main entrance, and adding a sports bar.

And the opening and expansion plans are not done. Not by a long shot.

With the introduction of legalized sports betting in Michigan beginning just over a year ago, Island Resort & Casino is in the process of building out the area next to the popular T. McC’s Sports Bar and creating a new sportsbook, expected to be completed by the beginning of May. In addition, the space that was previously used as the property’s steakhouse is being converted into a food court that will serve pizza, Mexican cuisine and other grab-and-go options.

“Yeah, I guess you could say we’re on a roll,” said General Manager Tony Mancilla. “Most of the casinos in Michigan and northern Wisconsin have been getting smaller due to a number of factors, like online gaming and lotteries. But we just keep growing. There’s a demand for it and we’re fulfilling that demand.”

The demand that Mancilla refers to was the driving force behind the most recent expansion project. Each year, from the first week of June to the end of September, the resort is 99% full, with a waiting list of 100 to 150 people every weekend. The new hotel connects to the existing Palm Tower and now brings the total number of rooms available at the resort to 454, which, according Mancilla, makes it the largest hotel north of Milwaukee.

Plans for the massive expansion were announced in January of 2020, just months before COVID-19 turned the world upside down. All of the permits were pulled, the contracts were signed and the materials had been ordered. The Tribe was staring down the barrel of a potential once-in-a-generation pandemic and was facing a serious dilemma.

To build or not to build?

“It was a difficult situation, for sure, but we decided to go ahead with our plans, and we’re glad we did,” Mancilla said.

Due to the pandemic, the resort was closed for six weeks, but they used that time wisely, finishing the underground work while rerouting water and power. Island Resort & Casino was one of the first gaming venues in the U.S. to reopen in May 2020 and when it did, the expansion project was ahead of schedule.

“If we waited, the price tag would have gone by about 40% and we wouldn’t be where we are today,” added Mancilla.

Included in the 454 guest rooms available are 10 new luxury suites. Eight Golf Suites, which boast beautiful views of the award-winning Sweetgrass Golf Club that annually hosts an LPGA Epson Tour event each summer, feature two queen beds and one king, as well as a poker table. Stay-and-play packages are beyond reasonable (starting at $95 per person for one night stay and a round of golf) and since the new course, Sage Run, opened in 2018 to rave reviews the resort is now home to two of the top courses in Michigan and hosted over 33,000 rounds combined last year.

The two Spa Suites are connected to the Drift Spa, allowing guests to comfortably walk directly from their room to their spa appointment, and are equipped with hot tubs and all of the spa necessities.

Of course, the new project was about more than just fulfilling the demand for heads in beds. Horizons Steakhouse, perched on the 12th floor of the new tower, can seat as many as 200 people and can also break down into a convention area that can accommodate 120 people. Meanwhile, the addition of Splash Island, a 14,010 square-foot water oasis with winding tube slides, hot tubs, a lazy river and more, is open to both guests of the resort and non-guests.

“If you build a bigger facility, you need a bigger pool, so that was the thought process behind Splash Island,” Mancilla said. “We had 200 kids a day in there during the Christmas break. It’s cold up here in the winter, so this is a perfect way to get out. It’s been great for booking rooms and selling food that we normally wouldn’t.”

Horizons Steakhouse

Horizons Steakhouse

With the expansion now open and the wheels in motion for the new sportsbook and food court, Mancilla credits his marketing team and the support of the Potawatomi Indian Tribe for the continued success of the property, which he says has grown 8% per year the last seven years with more than half of its guests driving from two or more hours away.

“We know our customers and our marketing department knows how to keep them interested and engaged,” he said. “We have so many things going on right now with two championship golf courses, a spa, convention center, shows. The sports betting has brought in some new clientele that we hadn’t seen before, so we have a lot of different ways to get people here and once they come, they always come back because they like what they see.

“As far as the build outs and expansions, our tribal council allows us to budget for capital improvements every year. So we have a clear plan to keep adding. There's always something new here. I think that’s why we have so many repeat customers. It’s never stagnant.”
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT