Most officials happy with Danville Casino at 3-month mark
Three months ago Tuesday, the doors to the Danville Casino opened, and they have not closed since.
The 24/7 temporary facility opened May 15 ahead of the permanent casino resort’s arrival next year. These initial months have been successful, according to Caesars and the city of Danville, in terms of visitation, hiring, revenue and collaboration. And most business owners near the site say they’re enthusiastic about the arrival of Caesars, despite some worries about traffic coming to pass.
About 400,000 people have visited the Danville Casino in its first three months, said Chris Albrecht, Caesars Virginia general manager.
“We’re definitely seeing much more customer demand than we initially anticipated,” he said. “We’re seeing several thousand people a day midweek, and closer to 4,000 or 5,000 on the weekend.”
Most of these visitors come from within a 45-minute drive, Albrecht said, adding that this radius will likely increase with the opening of the permanent casino, with its expanded gaming options and hundreds of hotel rooms. But right now, the 40,000-square-foot semi-permanent tent that houses the Danville Casino is more of a day trip for most guests.
“Since we don’t have the full resort destination yet, it’s a much closer population,” Albrecht said. “Once we have the full resort, we will see people coming from that three-, four-, five-hour range.”
To meet that demand, Caesars will be adding more games to the casino floor, he said.
The Danville Casino currently has 768 slot machines and 25 table games, but Albrecht said the temporary facility soon will have 60 more slot machines, eight more electronic table games and nine more live table games.
“We’re continuing to hire table game dealers, and about half the team comes from Danville,” Albrecht said, adding that about 75% of the employees are from Virginia. “A lot of the job opportunities that we talked about on the front end are coming to fruition.”
The temporary casino has tallied more than $30 million in revenue in its first six weeks, according to reports from the Virginia Lottery. In May, when the casino was only open for about two weeks, it brought in almost $12 million. In June, it brought in almost $19 million more.
According to the June report, the Danville Casino brought in about $6 million more than the Bristol Casino, also a temporary facility that opened in July 2022, and only $2 million less than the Rivers Casino Portsmouth, which is a permanent facility with almost double the number of games.
The city of Danville received about $1.85 million in gaming tax revenue from the temporary facility’s first six weeks of operations, the Virginia Lottery reported. Numbers for July and August aren’t available yet.
The city also receives direct payments from Caesars Virginia as part of an agreement with the organization. As of mid-July, those payments totaled about $771,500, according to the city
Corrie Bobe, Danville’s director of economic development, said that the city is working with the Investing in Danville Steering Committee, which it established in 2020, and with a consulting group called PFM to decide how best to use the money it’s getting from the casino.
The steering committee identified four top priorities after receiving feedback from the community, Bobe said: public education, economic development, public safety and quality of life.
“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to make one-time, strategic investments that improve the overall quality of life of the community or additional economic development opportunities,” she said.
Instead of filling in the general budget obligations, this revenue will be used for “various strategic high-priority, almost once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunities to help better the community,” she said.
And the Danville Casino has been beneficial to the city outside of its financial contributions, Bobe said. Collaborative efforts between Caesars and the city, community and local businesses are off to a great start, she said.
Caesars donated $1.5 million to Averett University to establish a hospitality and tourism bachelor’s degree in November, and it has also worked with the city to hold fairs for small women- and minority-owned businesses, she said.
The Caesars team has also been a part of conversations about tourism in the region, Bobe said.
Members of the Caesars leadership team are joining local boards in Danville and Pittsylvania, Albrecht said.
Albrecht himself is a member of the local chamber of commerce’s board of directors, and Kunal Patel, Caesars Virginia compliance manager, is on the River District Association’s board of directors and the Institute for Advanced Learning’s board of trustees.
Caesars employees have also been patronizing local businesses and restaurants. Albrecht said.
“We’ve done customer dinners at local restaurants, and we continue to use local hotels to put our customers in,” he said. “If I take a VIP customer to a local restaurant, and they have a dish they like, they’ll come back to eat it on their own. That’s starting to happen.”
Caesars also sponsored the 2023 season for the Danville Otterbots, the local Appalachian League baseball team.
Albrecht said that Caesars has also felt reciprocal support from the community. “It’s definitely a symbiotic and great relationship that I think will just continue to grow,” he said.
Businesses are excited — with a few concerns
John Mason is the co-owner of Foxglove Clothing, a women’s boutique right across West Main Street from the Caesars site. He said that seeing the construction progress every day is exciting.
“I can remember when the referendum was first passed, and people would ask us if we were excited about it, and I would say it could open tomorrow, and it wouldn’t be soon enough for us,” Mason said.
Foxglove has been in its location in the city’s Schoolfield district since 2003, back when Dan River Mills still operated across the street. The store and its neighbors on West Main Street are getting used to sharing the street with Caesars.
When the casino was first announced, some Schoolfield residents and business owners were worried about an increase in crime and traffic.
Crime so far hasn’t been a major issue. There have been eight larcenies at the casino since it opened, with the majority of those happening because guests left the vouchers to claim their winnings unattended, said Matt Bell, spokesman for the Danville Police Department.
But traffic has gotten worse, some Schoolfield business owners said.
“People don’t slow up, and they don’t go the speed limit,” said Brenda Townsend, owner of Alterations by Brenda, a tailoring business less than a half-mile from the casino.
Next door to Townsend, Rose Shields runs the Linden Rose Boutique. Shields said that the increase in traffic and speeding is a big problem because her customers usually park on the street.
“We have a lot of customers opening their [car] doors, and we’ve had several people who have had their doors hit, mirrors knocked off, and one customer got hit,” she said.
Bobe said that the city is aware of traffic issues in that area, adding that one of the goals of the Schoolfield Master Plan, which has strategies for revitalizing the area, will address this.
“There are recommendations [in the plan] on mobility improvements along the entire corridor to ensure that West Main Street remains conducive to all modes of traffic,” including cars, bicycles and pedestrians, Bobe said. “As we begin implementing the recommendations, any challenges that have arisen should be alleviated.”
Unlike on the road, the Danville Casino hasn’t made much of a difference to foot traffic, business owners said.
“Right now for the majority, people park across the street from the casino, go into the casino and go back across the street,” Shields said. “Until there are other restaurants, and other things going on, you’re not going to have foot traffic.”
But Shields is looking forward to the full resort opening, and even hung a banner outside her shop to support Caesars.
Mason said that sometimes sons and daughters who have just dropped their parents off at the casino come into Foxglove, looking for something to do. But he, too, expects business to increase once the permanent casino opens.
The full Caesars resort will include a 500-room hotel, and one of Schoolfield’s empty mill buildings is slated to be renovated into a boutique hotel by a private developer.
“When people are spending the night, that’s when we’ll look for there to be a bigger increase in business,” Mason said.
Townsend, on the other hand, said she’s happy with her regular customers and isn’t looking for a large increase in business.
“I’m busy enough,” she said. “It’s just me here, I’m the only one who sews, and I can’t go but so fast. It already takes about a month to get your clothes back.”
Mason also expressed concerns about how Foxglove Clothing would keep up with more business, if it eventually comes.
“You want an increase in business, but then you have to think, how are we going to handle it?” Mason said. “Like everywhere else in the country, you’ve got to have help.”
‘Taking lessons’ from the temporary casino
Managing the operations of an active casino, even a temporary one, while planning for the opening of a permanent resort is both exciting and hectic, Albrecht said. But one of the benefits of having a temporary casino is the learning process.
“We’re learning about any potential changes we need for the permanent [resort],” he said. “We’re taking lessons from the temporary facility.”
And because of the Danville Casino, Albrecht and his team were on site in Danville much earlier than normal in the construction process.
These first three months in the temporary casino have also been an opportunity to work out the kinks of opening a new business.
“The first phase of that was just training the staff and team members,” Albrecht said. “Three months in, they’re much more comfortable out there. But in the early days, early weeks, we were certainly making a lot of mistakes and learned through that, and we weren’t quite as efficient as we are now. The customers were fortunately very patient with us.”
There have also been some challenges operating in a temporary structure, Albrecht said.
“In a record weather summer, we’ve had to tweak and add to our HVAC system,” he said. “And we’ve added more return units to help with some of the smoking in the building as well, so that’s definitely been top of mind for us, controlling the temperature and making sure it’s a comfortable experience.”
Other permanent casinos in the area may be on the horizon, too — just not in Virginia.
As many as four new casinos may be authorized in North Carolina, one of which could be in Rockingham County, just 25 miles south of Danville.
But both Caesars Virginia and the city of Danville say they’re not worried about these potential casinos pulling from their customer base.
City officials told the Danville Register & Bee that they were expecting the possibility of new casinos opening in North Carolina — that’s why they chose such a recognizable operator for the Danville casino, they said.
“We have an amazing team with a great brand at Caesars, and we’re going to be building a beautiful resort destination that we believe will sustain for the long run here in this area,” Albrecht said.
Bobe said that the city will “keep a close eye” as developments unfold in North Carolina.
“But at this point, we’re full-steam ahead on supporting this resort,” she said.