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Venerable Greenbrier Resort heads list of new gaming sites for 2010

New casinos continue to pop up across the country, bringing opulence and fun as they channel everything from James Bond’s Monte Carlo to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In 2009, several casinos opened with varying designs, but similar goals in customer comfort and gaming opportunities.

Other major changes occurred within state governments as legislatures and gaming commissions loosened their regulations to allow for wider gaming possibilities. Alterations were even made to longstanding gaming establishments, such as the Cherokee Casino Resort in Tulsa, Okla., which became the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino this summer after a $155 million renovation.

The Greenbrier Tavern Casino
White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

In October, the 721-room Greenbrier resort added gaming to its long list of resort activities by opening the Tavern Casino on interim status. The 3,700-square-foot casino currently features 44 slots, 10 table games and a luxuriously styled interior modeled after the Monte Carlo Casino.

The Casino is scheduled to open at the Greenbrier in April with a similarly stylish design aesthetic in an underground complex beneath Greenbrier’s front lawn. To reach the hidden casino, visitors will descend a dramatic grand circular staircase flanked by waterfalls.

“It will be a spectacular facility, very elegant and unlike anything anyone has seen before,” said resort owner Jim Justice.

Open only to overnight resort guests, members of Greenbrier’s clubs and attendees at an event or convention, the Casino will not only include more gaming options than the Tavern Casino, but will also present retail and dining areas, such as a full-service restaurant and a sushi bar.

The National Historic Landmark resort has hosted 26 U.S. presidents and a number of other distinguished guests since 1778. Today, recreational options at the resort abound, with bunker tours, golf courses, white-water rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking and bowling, to name a few.

Maryland raises the stakes

In September, the Maryland Video Lottery Location Commission awarded Ocean Downs Racetrack in Berlin the first slot license in the state. Maryland is one of several states to expand its gambling options recently in response to growing financial pressures caused by the current recession.

After a years-long political back-and-forth over proposed slot machines in Maryland, Ocean Downs Racetrack plans to open 600 slot machines by Memorial Day. Ocean Downs will transform the current 34,000-square-foot grandstand into the racetrack’s gaming area, which could eventually hold up to 1,500 slot machines. Already, guests can bet on live harness races from June through August and on yearlong simulcast racing.

“We are very pleased to win approval,” said Ocean Enterprise 589 LLC president William Rickman Jr. “With the approval, I believe this ushers in a new era of Mid-Atlantic cooperation. We expect that most of our team members and many of our customers will be from the local vicinity: Worcester County, Ocean City and Ocean Pines.”

With a total of 15,000 slot machines allowed in Maryland, many residents expect the state to allot more slot licenses in the near future.

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino
Tulsa, Okla.

In August, the Cherokee Nation infused the rock-’n’-roll culture into Tulsa’s former Cherokee Casino Resort to bring the only Hard Rock to America’s heartland. The new Hard Rock Resort and Casino stays true to its branding with a $155 million transformation of the casino, including a $2 million rock-inspired music memorabilia collection.

“This venture brings together a unique blend of Cherokee culture, Oklahoma’s rich musical history, and classic rock and roll,” said David Stewart, CEO of Cherokee Nation. “We’ve created an experience that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.”

Country music star Toby Keith opened his 350-seat I Love This Bar and Grill in the casino in July as part of the expansion. Country artists perform at the 10,000-square-foot food and entertainment venue, which serves American fare.

Also added to the original casino property were 30,000 square feet of gaming space and a luxury hotel tower with 200 rooms and suites. Four other dining venues, a Cherokee Hills Golf Club championship golf course and a Hard Rock retail store offer further amenities beyond the 2,300 electronic games and 70 table games.

“I think people will be surprised at the merchandise available at the Hard Rock Store,” said Stewart. “Not only do we include the very popular Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa-logoed T-shirts, but-also a long list of items such as name-brand jewelry, belt buckles, dog tags and designer chocolates.”

Signs of the Cherokee heritage still linger in the modern casino at the Cherokee Gallery, where high-end “flat art,” pottery, baskets and jewelry reflect the tribe’s Native American artistic traditions.

FireKeepers Casino
Battle Creek, Mich.

The high ceilings and innovative lighting of the new FireKeepers Casino hark back to classic Las Vegas-style decor. The $300 million facility is owned by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, and opened in August with a 107,000-square-foot casino floor.

Courtesy FireKeepers Casino

“I think one of the biggest things that set us apart is we are one of the more friendly casinos,” said Michael Facenda, director of marketing for
the casino. “We have great customer service.”

Guests can try their luck at 2,680 slot machines, 78 table games and a 120-seat poker room with live, hand-dealt games and bingo. Five restaurants also allow plenty of choices: The Mijem Buffet highlights cuisines from around the globe, and the Nibi gives diners an upscale experience, pairing meat and seafood with fine wines.

Both FireKeepers Casino, above, and Red Hawk Casino, bottom left and right, opened less than a year ago with more than four restaurands and 2,000 slot machines.

Courtesy FireKeepers Casino

The new casino strives for convenience for all visitors, which is why the tribe built the casino right off Interstate 94 midway between Chicago and Detroit.

“We also have an air-handling system that draws fresh air in from outside, funnels it into the gaming floor and takes any smoke to the ceiling,” said Facenda. “It is very effective and enables both smoking and nonsmoking guests to be very comfortable here. The tribe made a commitment for high air quality, and this meets that commitment.”

Red Hawk Casino
Placerville, Calif.

Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Red Hawk Casino opened in December 2008 off Highway 50 in Placerville, Calif. The Shingle Springs Tribal Gaming Authority owns the new 278,000-square-foot facility, which has 88,000 square feet of gaming space and six dining establishments.

Courtesy Red Hawk Casino

A wood- and stone-framed entryway helps the venue blend in with the natural setting of mountains surrounding the casino.

“By the Waterfall Buffet, there is a wall of windows with a beautiful view of the foothills,” said Heidi Hamers, vice president of marketing for the casino. “The design of the casino blends with the natural setting of the area, so it’s relatively organic-looking. We have the easy convenience of getting to us, coupled with beautiful views and an opulent interior.”

Courtesy Red Hawk Casino

The Waterfall Buffet offers a wide selection of fresh foods at live-action cooking stations; four other sit-down restaurants offer such wide-ranging meals as local seafood and Mexican fare. The casino’s Pearl Asian Cuisine restaurant serves more exotic Chinese and Pacific Rim specialties.

Group package offerings have already attracted groups from across the country hoping to win big at Red Hawk’s progressive jackpots, 2,100 slot machines, 75 table games and high-limit area.