FireKeepers Casino

There is a sense of arrival at FireKeepers Casino just east of Battle Creek which made me feel like I was stepping onto a stage the moment I handed the valet parking attendant my car keys. With a fountain of blazing flames behind me and a warm welcome from the attendant, I walked through the glass front doors already feeling like the leading man.
In the movie “Color of Money,” Paul Newman, playing the sage, old Fast Eddie Felson, leads Tom Cruise’s young Vincent Lauria and his girlfriend Carmen into the casino hosting a big money pool tournament. As they enter, Fast Eddie has a question for Vincent.
            “Do you smell that?”
            “No,” snaps Carmen. “Money!”
            That’s the kind of thrilling optimism I felt as I was being drawn in to Michigan’s newest casino – FireKeepers – aptly named because it, like the fountain of fire, snaps, crackles and pops.
            “It’s a tribal tradition to ‘Keep the Flame,’” said Jeffrey LaFrance, marketing manager at FireKeepers, of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi which operates the casino.
And just because there’s fire doesn’t mean there is smoke. Vincent Lauria would be relieved to know that FireKeepers was built with a state-of-the-art, high-tech smoke-eating system constantly purifying the facility by, in part, forcing fresh air up through hundreds of subtle, fist-sized circular black vents in the floor.
The fresh environment, warm orange, yellow, red and gold tones, plus stylish overhead lighting in the $300-million showplace made me feel like a million bucks – and had me feeling as if I could win that amount, too!
    No need to rush, though. Convinced my fortune would come soon enough, I settled back onto a couch next to a stone fireplace in the VIP lounge with a cocktail and cigar and watched the National Football League games on two different televisions. Later in the afternoon, I watched the Detroit Lions play on the big screen in Kabaret, the casino’s nightclub, which stands front and center as the casino floor’s hub. There was no dancing in Kabaret that afternoon, though, since the game’s outcome was typical. On to the 107,000 square-foot gaming floor, then: 2,680 slot machines; 78 tables games including Blackjack, Craps, Baccarat, and Big Six; a Poker room with 12 live Poker tables; Bingo; and a high limit gaming area.
“We have created FireKepers to feel like a Las Vegas casino. Among Michigan’s tribal casinos, we are unique in that style,” said LaFrance, who pointed out the sophisticated choreographed light shows which take place over the gaming floor. Marketing Director Michael Facenda brought his big time experience to Mid-Michigan from Atlantic City’s buzz-creating, ground breaking Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, a celebrity hangout which was a game changer for the previously Boardwalk-centric, dowdy gaming scene there. �
The Blackjack dealers I encountered at FireKeepers were friendly, and, when they beat the players, sympathetic. Flat screen televisions with ESPN were visible from all of the tables, too.
The craps tables had limits as low as $5, which encouraged players to give the game, which is not as complicated as it looks and offers favorable odds, a try.
When I sat down to play Baccarat, I put $100 on the table and asked to buy more chips. The pit boss sauntered over and commented on my request.
“I’m not sure I agree with that strategy, sir.”
I asked him what he meant.
“You’ve already got $100 in chips to play with, so why do you want to buy more? You plan to win with the $100 you have right? So you won’t need to buy more.”
It was a dose of positive thinking which proved to be prophetic. I tripled my original $100 stake before breaking for dinner!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
            I might have quit playing Baccarat sooner had I known what was in store for me at Nibi, FireKeepers Casino’s gastronomical star of the show. Culinary fans from Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Jackson and beyond have been making reservations at Nibi – a fine dining destination restaurant for gamers and non-gamers alike. On oasis behind a flowing wall of water just off of the gaming floor, Nibi sooths diners with a sparking, cool blue interior accented by delicate, dangling raindrops of light. The 70 seat, intimate experience features its own quiet but dazzling bar and a creative, contemporary menu including Hoisin-Braised Short Ribs Tempura; Twenty-Four-Hour Marinated Creole Rib Eye Steak; and Cardamom Seared Sablefish. The Fire Roasted Tomato Bisque was the starring appetizer. Entrees average in the thirty-dollar range, and reservations are advisable. This is the type of restaurant at which prospective clients are wowed, engagements take place and anniversaries are celebrated.
Nibi’s head chef came to FireKeepers from the same position at the famed Atlantis Resort, in the Bahamas, where he cooked for Michael Jordan and other worldwide celebrities. Presentation is everything in the casino business, so you can expect your dinner at Nibi to be most entertaining.
            Less dramatic dining and snacking options are easy to find right along the gaming floor’s east wall, including a 300-seat Mijem Buffet with fresh cooking stations; a 150-seat casual diner called “24/7” for the obvious reason; Chi Mon-ee’s Food Court; and the Amazen Blazen Grab and Go Snack Shop.        �
            Starlet Jennifer Love Hewitt and famed automotive executive Lee Iacocca are among the notables who have already turned up at FireKeepers, which is less than an hour’s drive from Lansing two exits west of Interstate 69 off of I-94.
            Visit or call (269) 789-0373.

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