If you want to go gaming while vacationing in the Ozarks, you’ll need a GPS and at least half a tank of gas. You won’t find any Branson, Missouri casinos. Thanks to Missouri laws, there aren’t any.
The bad news is that the nearest casinos are 2 hours west, just over the Oklahoma state line. If that alone won’t test your resolve, along the route you’ll pass a turn-off that leads to Carthage and the Precious Moments Chapel. As if you need your mind wandering to thoughts of a 4-inch-tall, doe-eyed cherub on your shoulder, imploring, “Turn back and go take your wife to see Jim Stafford like you promised.”
But once you’ve passed your guilt check and crossed into the Sooner State, the good news far outweighs the bad. In Oklahoma, you’ll find several high-quality tribal gaming establishments. The likes of Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, the Indigo Sky Casino farther south in Wyandotte, the Grand Lake Casino and Grove and others in the vicinity offer promise of gaming experiences that will make your drive worthwhile—depending on how your luck turns out, anyway.
Downstream Casino Resort
Quapaw, Oklahoma, is a fairly easy, two-hour drive from Branson — north on U.S. 65, then west on Interstate 44. It’s a town of less than 1,000 in Ottawa County in the northeast corner of Oklahoma — close enough to Missouri to be considered part of the Joplin Metropolitan Area and close enough to Kansas that the resort parking lot fans into the Jayhawk State. Quapaw’s nickname is “The Hay Capital,” though Hay Capital of exactly what is unclear. What is clear is that you have every opportunity to “make hay” when you visit Downstream Casino Resort. Owned by the Quapaw Tribe, the casino is part of an upscale, Vegas-style resort that opened in 2008 and gets very high marks from most visitors.
• Slots and Electronic Games: You’ll find more than 2,000 slots and video poker games on Downstream’s casino floor. The majority of slots are penny machines, but inside two high-limit slot rooms you’ll find machines of $1 to $100 per play.
• Table Games: The array of popular table games on the casino floor include Blackjack, Double Deck Blackjack, Three-Card Poker, Crazy 4 Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em.
• Poker Room: The poker room at Downstream Casino Resort not only offers a variety of games around the clock, but it also offers a setting unmatched regionally in comfort, thanks to amenities that include tableside food and beverage service. You can find a tournament that suits your schedule or secure a seat at an informal table and play as long as you like. The games include Texas Hold’ Em (limit and no limit), Seven Card Stud, Omaha and others.
• Dining: In addition to three sit-down restaurants (a steakhouse, a buffet and, if you really lose track of time on the casino floor, a breakfast grille), you can enjoy a sport bar or grab-and-go offerings at a snack bar and a coffee shop.
Also in Quapaw, Oklahoma
A sister casino to Downstream, Quapaw Casino’s table games include Blackjack, Three-Card Poker and Crazy 4 Poker. You can also play pool Mondays for free.
Indigo Sky Casino
Indigo Sky Casino, in southern Ottawa County, two miles from the Missouri line, is 100 miles west of Branson on Highway 60. The $85 million upscale casino-hotel with a 45,000-square-foot gaming floor has a Wyandotte address but actually is 6 miles east of the tiny berg. The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, headquartered in Wyandotte, owns the business, which opened in September 2012. And don’t worry about what time you arrive. The casino is open 24-7.
• Slots and Electronic Games: You can choose from more than 1,200 machines at Indigo Bay Casino, from penny and nickel per play to $25. You’ll find favorites from VGT (Mr. Money Bags, Lucky Duck) and AGS (Liberty 7s, Cool Katz) in addition to trendy, newer titles like Big Buck Hunter and Lord of the Rings.
• Table Games: High rollers enjoy the Cut Throat Blackjack Tournament ($25 buy-in) every Thursday, but if you or someone in your family is a casino novice, you’ll find table game offerings at a skill level that won’t intimidate you. Except for the tournament, no table even charges an ante, and all blackjack table pay 3-to-2. Choose from Double Deck Pitch Blackjack, Six Deck Shoe Blackjack, Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’ Em.
• Poker Room: You’ll find up to eight live tables at any given time, offering tournament and open play and a game selection that includes No Limit Hold ’Em, Crazy Pineapple and Omaha.
• Off-Track Betting: Indigo Sky’s OTB experience includes live tellers as well as self-service kiosks and simulcast wagering for racing events from around the region to around the world. And you can follow all the action on the casino’s video wall.
• Bingo: The robust Bingo calendar offers games every day and weekend payouts up to $1,000. The 520-seat hall includes separate sections for smokers and nonsmokers.
• Dining: You can choose from a full-service restaurant, a 24-hour café, a comfort food grille (here’s hoping you won’t need it) and a bar where you can grab a nice cocktail (ditto).
Also in Wyandotte, Oklahoma
Wyandotte Nation Casino, owned by the Wyandotte Nation, features more than 500 slots, a selection of table games (Six-Deck Blackjack, Three-Card Poker, Single-Deck Superfun 21, Caribbean Stud, Crazy 4 Poker), fine dining, a cocktail bar, a deli—and a bowling alley. Club 60 West features four bowling lanes plus billiards and shuffleboard tables. Though smaller than other casinos, it generally gets high marks from visitors.
Grand Lake Casino
Just about 15 minutes southeast of Wyandotte, down Oklahoma Highway 10 near Grove is Grand Lake Casino, another excellent choice. Owned by the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe, the casino features a 45,000-foot gaming floor and is open 24/7. A bingo-only operation when it opened, Grand Lake Casino now offers slots and table games as part of a larger day-trip experience to Grand Lake including a scenic riverboat cruise and a village where pioneer life is re-enacted. The case is located on scenic Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, it’s 2 hours, 15 minutes from your vacation base—but since there are no Branson, Missouri casinos and you’ve come this far…
• Slots and Electronic Games: This casino features more than 700 machines. You can play favorites like Mr. Money Bags, Lucky Ducks, Red Hot Ruby and Golden Emperor.
• Table Games: You’ll find 14 lively tables offering the likes of Blackjack, Three-Card Poker and Ultimate Hold ’Em.
• Dining: You can enjoy casual dining from a large menu at one venue or grab a quick sandwich from another.
The Stables Casino
The last stop on this digital tour is The Stables Casino. It’s 2½ hours from Branson, but almost all interstate. It’s located in Miami, Oklahoma, 20 minutes west of Downstream just off I-44. Owned by the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, it’s a 24/7 operation with a 25,000-square-foot gaming floor. Notably, here you also can also enjoy entertainment Fridays and Saturdays at a comedy club on property.
• Slots and Electronic Games: You can choose from more than 600 machines. Look upstairs if you want to find the high-stakes machines.
• Table Games: This casino offers only Blackjack.
• Dining: Another amenity that distinguishes this casino is its restaurant. The menu features upscale American cuisine highlighted by all-you-can eat crab leg buffets Tuesdays (king crab) and Wednesdays (snow crab).
Plan your vacation to Branson accordingly
Many who take vacations in Branson actually reside within 2 ½ hours and travel to the Live Music Show Capital of the World by car. So depending where you live and how long you plan to stay in Branson, you might find better use for your valuable time than spending an additional 2 to 2 ½ hours behind the wheel—especially if you enjoy casino games strictly for recreation and fun. After all, there’s so much else to see and do in and around Branson and Table Rock Lake. See shows. Hop in a boat. Explore Top of the Rock Ozarks Heritage Preserve and Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. Those of you in this category might consider saving your casino excursion for another time. Of course, if you’re passing through this area from your residence to the southwest, enjoy a stop on the way to Branson—or on the way home.
If you’re an out-of-state traveler passing through on your way to Branson, be aware of the casino presence in Kansas City, Missouri, and St. Louis. Search accordingly if you’re interested. You’ll find several major casino hotels in those large cities. But Kansas City is almost 3 ½ hours from Branson, St. Louis almost 4 hours. Neither represents best use your time as a stand-alone day trip unless you plan to see other sights while you’re there.
Instead, think northeast Oklahoma if you wish to make gaming part of your Branson vacation experience. The drive is shorter, the casinos are lively, the dining options are diverse. So don’t think twice—even when you pass the turn-off to Precious Moments Chapel.