Water Street’s Emerald Island Casino celebrates 20th anniversary
Emerald Island Casino co-owner Tim Brooks remembers where he was 20 years ago this week.
“We were running around like a chicken without a head getting ready to open,” he said.
Brooks and co-owner — and twin brother — Mike bought the Pot O’Gold Casino in 2001 and the pair spent the next year and a half, and about $2 million, renovating the closed casino in downtown Henderson’s Historic Water Street District.
The gaming establishment opened its doors on May 23, 2003, and celebrates its 20th anniversary on Saturday. What was once considered a sleepy downtown area has grown significantly — and Emerald Island Casino has grown along with it.
“Downtown Henderson has really come on strong in the last few years,” Brooks said. “We always thought that it could be what it is today. Fortunately for us, nobody else did at that time.”
Brooks attributes that to investments from the city of Henderson and the Golden Knights, who partnered to demolish the Henderson Convention Center and replace it with a practice ice arena estimated to be more $25 million. The new Lifeguard Arena showed others what could be done when it opened in November 2020, he said.
But the Brooks brothers also had an investment in downtown Henderson earlier that year. The pair took over the Rainbow Club across Market Street, expanding their footprint and allowing guests to walk between the two casino floors.
The casino pushed through the economic downturns of the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. Brooks said the recession was easier to weather for the casino because the brothers leaned into marketing and promotions — so much so that there was “double-digit growth” at the casino.
“What we did is we decided to put the pedal to the metal. But we use the analogy when there’s an accident on the racecar track, the smart drivers go faster because everybody else is slowing down and that’s what we did,” Brooks said. “We just went faster.”
The pandemic was a different story. The casino furloughed about 130 staffers, eventually getting most back when the casino was allowed to reopen. Still, the pandemic’s effect on competitors could have helped the Emerald Island and other Henderson-area gaming operations. Station Casino shuttered Fiesta Henderson during the pandemic and demolished the large gaming site, about two miles away from Emerald Island, in fall 2022.
“I think there’s no doubt that we were (able to expand market share in Henderson),” he said. “I do think we would’ve seen substantial growth with the Fiesta there or not, just because of the amount of new rooftops in the area. But there’s no question that not having the Fiesta around was an added bonus for not just us but all the other small gaming operators in the area.”
There’s been enough growth to start up new expansion plans. Emerald Island plans to add an additional food venue, bar and about 100 more slot machines beginning next year in response to customer demand, Brooks said.
Emerald Island will celebrate its anniversary on Saturday with festivities beginning at noon. Plans include jackpot drawings and free slow smoked beef brisket, cake, Irish coffee and other treats.
McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at [email protected].@mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.