But now, the thriving WinStar World Casino has made the one-time sleepy town into a destination.
"This place is amazing,” said Charleene Patterson as she played a slot machine. “It's huge. I can't believe it."
Patterson, of Whitesboro, Texas, is one of thousands of Texans who flock to Thackerville with a dream of winning big.
"It's an escape,” she said. “Come here with the expectation you might win a little bit."
The rest of America may be feeling the economic crunch, but good luck finding any sign of it at WinStar.
"I think what we're capturing are those people that still have discretionary income but don't want to spend as much on transportation costs," said Kym Koch, a WinStar spokeswoman.
WinStar has doubled in size in the past year and is now a half-mile end-to-end. It has 5,700 games.
About 2,700 people already work there, and the casino is hiring another 200 to staff the newest expansion. When it's all over, WinStar will be one of the five largest casinos in the world in terms of size and number of games.
The Chickasaw Nation owns and operates the casino.
Employee Jason Jones, 18, a freshman at the University of North Texas in Denton, greets customers at the door.
"I love it here,” Jones said. “It's a good job. There's lots to do. It keeps me busy."
Jones works 36 hours a week and is considered part-time. But he gets full-time benefits, including health insurance and a retirement plan.
When gas prices reached nearly $4 a gallon this summer, WinStar began paying bonuses to some employees such as Jones. They earn up to $75 extra per paycheck to cover the commute.
Other Indian casinos are also booming all over Oklahoma -- a sign that even in troubled times, gambling is as popular as ever.