Guests from 49 states

Virginia: Hard Rock's temporary Bristol Casino an early success with thousands of visitors in first few weeks

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A month and a half after its opening, the Bristol Casino, future home of Hard Rock, has proven to be an early success. Virginia’s first casino, which celebrated its first six weeks of operation Friday, has thus far exceeded expectations, drawing thousands of visitors to the former Bristol Mall and documenting guests from 49 states, with Alaska as the only exception.

“We couldn’t have asked for more. We knew it would be a positive opening,” Hard Rock Bristol President Allie Evangelista said, reports Bristol Herald Courier. “We knew that the community was excited about it and the team members were excited about opening the property, but I don’t think I could have anticipated the excitement that came with the feedback we received.”

The temporary site has 30,000 square feet of casino space featuring 870 slots, 21 tables, and a sportsbook, all open to the public 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. The space includes a main casino floor as well as non-smoking and high-limit gaming areas. It also offers restaurants such as Lucky’s, Brick’d, and sports bar and lounge Bristol Bar.

Hard Rock's Allie Evangelista

The temporary full-service casino “Bristol Casino - Future Home of Hard Rock” celebrated its launch on July 8, ahead of the opening of the permanent venue, set for 2024. Since then, it has shown early signs of success: according to a Virginia Lottery report, the venue generated $11.7 million in adjusted gross revenues from gaming in its first partial month of operation.

Out of that total, $10.2 million came from the property’s 870 slot machines, while $1.5 million corresponded to its 21 table games. Evangelista said the initial performance was better than anticipated, according to the cited source, although she admitted Bristol Casino –Virginia’s first such venue– doesn’t have much competition at the moment.

“Typically, when you open a casino in a market, there are other casinos you can compare with and what you think you’re going to do,” she said. “Our nearest competitor is in a different state, 2.5 hours away, with a difficult drive to get there. Our projections were conservative, but also based on the unknown or when we open casinos in other areas.”

However, Evangelista says the casino exceeded expectations in a key metric: the support of the community. The long wait for a Virginia casino led people to be excited, and has resulted in convenient word-of-mouth marketing for Hard Rock. “I think we underestimated the power of how much the community embraced us,” Evangelista noted.

Bristol is the first of four voter-approved casino projects in the state after legislation allowing five cities –Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond– to conduct referendums on the issue was passed in 2020. Richmond was the only city to shoot down the proposal, while in contrast, Bristol was one of the most supportive: voters approved the project with a 71% majority.

Being a first mover into the space has paid off for Bristol Casino, which has seen 33,000 guests sign up for Hard Rock’s new customer loyalty program in its first few weeks of operation. In July, a total of 4,500 loyalty program patrons drove to the casino from 100 miles or more, with 65% of loyalty guests coming from within 60 miles. Tennessee and Virginia have the most loyalty members, followed by North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

July's ribbon cutting ceremony for Bristol Casino

With the property being close to Interstate 81 and the summer tourist season in full swing, Bristol has been able to take advantage of these factors, and the public response has thus far been very positive. While the team has heard a few minor customer complaints –such as a demand for more tables– the casino says it is working to make changes, with the composition of the floor under constant review to arrive at the best solution for all parties.

Construction of the permanent Hard Rock Casino is set to begin soon, with a plan for the hotel, gaming floor, restaurants and entertainment venue to open simultaneously. Once complete, the full property, scheduled to open in May 2024, would have about 600 additional slot machines and more than twice as many table games, according to an earlier report.

In an exclusive interview with Yogonet in late July, Evangelista said the casino is seeing “a huge influx of people from out of town” on the weekends. “So Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, much busier than we would expect Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which is normal in local markets,” the executive said. “And probably what we will see long term is a much busier place to hang out on the weekends than it would be during the week.”

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