West Virginia businessman Jim Justice has been shaking things up at The Greenbrier since acquiring the 6,500-acre resort in May 2009. One of the cornerstones of his plans is construction of an 89,000-square-foot underground casino, tentatively scheduled to open July 2. During construction, the resort has been operating a much smaller casino elsewhere on the property.
Todd Fishon, who has worked in the gaming industry since 1987 and helped open Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, was hired to oversee casino operations. Fishon talked with Golfweek’s Martin Kaufmann about the resort’s casino.
What attracted you to The Greenbrier?
Mr. Justice. I met with him and he explained his vision for this type of casino, which is truly one of a kind in our country and probably the world. It’s focused on elegance. At every other casino, if you take the casino out, every other piece – the restaurants, the golf, the hotel – just falls. Here the casino is just an amenity. (The resort) could function with or without the casino. Then you throw in the fact that we are exclusive to hotel guests and our members, and we have the ability to keep it elegant. Most places won’t put in a dress code because of the desire to bring in as many people as possible. Here, after 7 p.m., it will be jacket-required.
Will the casino be strictly for guests?
By state law, the casino is open to hotel guests and members of our association. And if we have a convention, participants are allowed to enter the casino.
What is the size of the staff, and how has the staff training gone?
The gaming staff is 130 people, consisting of 30 percent experienced people and 70 percent that we hired from the local area. The food-and-beverage staff is over 200. We really want to be supportive of the local population and try to make a positive economic impact on the area.
What games will be available?
We’ll have craps, baccarat, blackjack, roulette, three-card poker, Texas Hold ’em poker. And we’ll have the latest slot machines. There also will be a high-roller area, which has a private bar.
Tell us about the gaming activities you’ve had in place since last fall.
We opened a 3,700-square-foot casino, which is under our Prime 44 West steakhouse. It has 10 table games and 44 slot machines. Weekend nights, we entertain 200 people downstairs. This resort really needed someplace for people to go after dinner to relax and unwind and engage in conversation or a game of chance or have a cocktail.
Have you seen an impact yet on future bookings because of the casino?
We’ve seen it in our previous bookings. This winter was the greatest occupancy The Greenbrier has ever had for the winter months. It’s because of a lot of things that are happening here, including the PGA Tour (The Greenbrier Classic from July 29-Aug. 1) and definitely the casino. But June and July bookings are already surpassing last year’s.
Will there be any special functions or events at the casino?
We’re going to be very event-driven. We have people in period costumes and luxurious gowns. We have nightly entertainment – contemporary jazz, blues. We have a piano player from 4 to 8 p.m. We have a signature champagne toast to our guests nightly at 10. . . . We really want to make it a nightly spectacle to celebrate our guests.
How has the construction of the casino affected the hotel?
You won’t notice the difference. . . . That’s the genius of putting it underground. Traditional Greenbrier guys, who come here for other reasons – maybe the gambling doesn’t interest them – they won’t really see a difference. It’s going to be the same beautiful, elegant Greenbrier. But if you want some nightly entertainment or want to people-watch, you go through a corridor, down a half-flight of stairs, now you’re on the mezzanine level with different eateries and outlets. And if you want to go down another grand staircase, then you’re in the casino environment.