With a major $633-million renovation on its final leg, casino visitors are met by an impressive waterfall, soaring trees, a dazzling light and sound show, and a giant wrap-around movie screen in Harrah’s new rotunda.
The just-opened rotunda is considered the crown jewel of the expansion, and a must-see even for non-gamblers. The centerpiece of the rotunda is twin 68-foot waterfalls that cascade from the ceiling to a collection pool in the floor.
Brooks Robinson, general manager of the casino, called the waterfalls and the rotunda experience its “ambassador piece” — a tourist attraction unto itself, intended to rival any other casino’s key feature like the famous fountains outside the Bellagio in Vegas.
Wrapping behind the waterfalls, a massive, floating, spiral staircase leads up to the second floor.
Surrounding the staircase is a 140 foot-long LED screen. The screen plays 15 themed videos with synchronized lighting and audio. The mini-shows feature everything from an artistic retelling of the Cherokee origin story accompanied by what can only be described as epic music to let people know that something important is happen to a comical video of a squirrel using two North Carolina trout to water ski. Children can enter the rotunda, unlike the typical age limit for the rest of the casino since there is no gaming located in the entry hall.
The synchronized lighting that moves with the videos and music emanates from eight 60-foot-tall tree columns decorating both the first and second floor of the rotunda. The trees are filled with more than 30,000 colored LED lights that are digitally programmed to create a multitude of programmed color combinations.
“They (the architects) really helped our vision come to life,” said Leeann Bridges, vice president of marketing at Harrah’s Casino and Hotel.
The rotunda is part of a larger casino renovation that includes new restaurants, shops and games. The $633-million remodel and expansion is a monumental attempt to change the face of Cherokee’s casino into a resort destination and draw a new demographic of gamer. Once complete, Harrah’s Casino and Hotel will have added a third tower of hotel rooms, a new entrance to the casino and a suite of new restaurants, dining spots, bars and lounges, including a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. It also did a major expansion of the gaming floors.
The project had 1,100 construction workers at its peak and 43 architects and interior designers.
Up the staircase of the rotunda to the second floor is the new World Series of Poker room, one of Harrah’s first introductions into table games since the passage of the gaming compact that allows for poker and other table games to be played at the casino.
And farther to the right, an old-style Italian café building, the restaurant Brio, juts out from the wall, breaking up the modernity of Harrah’s fresh new look. And, farther passed is a new ladies apparel store, Studio; a gift shop; and Sweet Stop, a candy store.