The Bristol Casino is ready to rock and roll

The Bristol Casino is ready to rock and roll

BRISTOL, Va. – The grand opening of Virginia’s first casino is days away and a staff of 600 is preparing to welcome guests to the Bristol Casino, future home of Hard Rock.

A 30,000 square foot gaming space has been created inside the former Belk location – an anchor store in the former Bristol Mall. It will feature about 900 slot machines, 20 table games, a high-limit gaming area, nonsmoking gaming area, full service restaurant, sports bar with live entertainment and smoking/non-smoking options, sportsbook and a grab-and-go food and beverage option.

While the full scale Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Bristol – with substantially larger casino, luxury hotel, Hard Rock Live performance area and multiple dining options is about two years away, Hard Rock Bristol President Allie Evangelista is excited to open these doors.

“Even though we are a temporary property, I’ve been in a lot of casinos and I’ve worked in several. This is as nice, if not nicer, than some places I’ve been and operated before. And it’s a temporary property,” Evangelista said Friday. “I’m really proud of the work. The product we have here is really nice and I can’t wait to welcome the community.”

The temporary casino will also have a store offering Hard Rock merchandise and a display area showcasing the future Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Bristol now under construction. The temporary facility won’t feature the full Hard Rock branding – that will come when the entire facility is open in two years.

With opening day drawing close, Evangelista’s to-do list is lengthy.

“It’s a long checklist but it’s the small details that matter. We’re getting the customer journey from when the guest arrives – the lighting right, the music right, the TVs right. It’s that kind of list. That signage is where it needs to be, that restrooms are clean and ready. That’s the to-do list right now,” she said. “We’re still installing things on a visual and a mood perspective rather than the actual operational part of it … All of our systems and all of our gaming – everything is in place and has been approved.”

Despite a lengthy career in the gaming industry, this will be the first time Evangelista has opened a new casino.

“I have never opened a property from scratch like this. It’s so much fun and I can’t wait to do it again in May 2024. I’ve been part of an opening team in a hotel but not a casino. I’ve opened portions of casinos – upgrades or high-limit rooms but never a whole property,” she said.

On Saturday they held a dealer graduation ceremony as 85 dealers completed an intensive three-month program, in anticipation of their first live gaming this week.

Hard Rock International operates properties around the world so they’ve sent a number of personnel to assist with training, preparations and the opening process.

“We have a really large group of people from other properties who are here helping us train and open. The feedback from them has been very positive about our team. They’re saying what I always say, that everyone here is so friendly and so excited about this opportunity,” she said.

The facility’s 600-person staff will continue its training right up to Friday’s opening day and Evangelista has another 100 waiting in the wings.

“We had a hiring event last Saturday that was super successful. We had over 100 offers so those team members are not yet onboard with us but will be joining us in the near future. We have everybody we need to open, but we are preparing for the fallout because we have a different industry,” Evangelista said. “People love and make a great career out [gaming] of it, but it’s not for everyone and we need to respect that and be prepared for any changes that come our way.”

Evangelista said everyone there is “really excited” about not just the casino but the dining and entertainment components that will be part of the facility.  

“We’re putting in a lot of hours because we want to be good at what we do, while understanding that our timeline for training wasn’t ideal just because the construction was a little behind,” Evangelista said. “There is more training we would like to have done ahead of time but we also know that we’ll learn as we go. The team members are excited. They’ve been expressing how happy they are with the company, the chance to learn something new. Several people have been promoted already in the last two or three months so they’re already building an opportunity in leadership.”

That training includes the kitchen where everyone is involved and food and beverages arrive daily.

“We’ve been in the kitchen cooking for a couple of weeks now. All of our team members have been testing and tasting our food; practicing serving our team members so the restaurants are full for that reason. The feedback has been that the food is really good. I have been impressed with what is coming out of the kitchen but it’s always nice to hear from the local community because they know what people here like,” she said.

Hard Rock is hosting two invitation-only events Tuesday and Thursday and all proceeds will benefit the United Way of Bristol. The casino opens to the public Friday at 2 p.m.

Bristol is one of four financially challenged Virginia cities whose residents overwhelmingly approved one casino operating in its borders back in November 2020. A similar referendum failed in Richmond in 2021. Evangelista acknowledged it has been a long time coming but the casino dream is poised to become reality – albeit on a temporarily smaller scale.

“I want to say a big thank you to the community for their support. I know it’s been a long time – a couple of years waiting for this to happen. It’s real and we’re opening,” she said. “Please remember we’re all learning. A lot of people, this is their first job in the casino industry. They are excited to serve and excited to build a career with us. We want our guests to see that this is a work in progress. We can’t wait to show them what we have and continue to work on the new product that will be Hard Rock in 2024.”

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