Priming the pump to cash in on casino’s trickle down

Business owners in Cherokee are making their own preparations for the influx of new visitors as a result of live gaming, hoping to draw them away from the casino and into their stores, restaurants or other businesses.

Nearly everyone seems to have high hopes that the addition of table games and live dealers in the casino will boost not just the casino’s profits but income flowing into Western North Carolina as well. Casino leaders estimate visitation will go from 3.6 million to 4 million a year.

“It’s going to change everything,” said Matthew Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce.

As the table games draw more people, hotels in Cherokee and the nearby towns of Sylva and Bryson City will see higher occupancy rates; stores and restaurants may see additional customers. And, because Harrah’s is searching for experienced employees, at least a portion of the workforce will be new to Western North Carolina, generating more tax money, among other things.

“It’s a trickle effect really,” said Brooks Robinson, general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

Not wanting to squander the opportunity, the chamber has talked to businesses about easy ways to attract Harrah’s patrons, from friendly customer service to façade upgrades to simply placing a brochure at the concierge desk at Harrah’s casino.

“Right now, it’s going to be back to basics,” Pegg said.

If outside businesses hope to compete with the glitz and glamour of Harrah’s, owners will need to make sure customers feel welcome and make the outside of their businesses look more appealing.

“As a region, we are going to have to step it up a little bit,” Pegg said.

During the past few years, the tribe has encouraged business owners to revamp their look to fall more in line with Cherokee’s new appearance — heavy timbers, native stone work, earth tones and green, metal roofing — as opposed to the gaudy neon signs in front of run-down buildings.

Although some have complained that Cherokee is too focused on the casino, many are excited about the prospect of growth expected to come as a result of the table games.

Brad Walker, general manager of the nearby Fairfield Inn, has nothing but good things to say about the casino and its growing market, which in his eyes can only benefit the inn.

“It’s going to effect everybody’s business,” Walker said. “To me, its great; it’s going to keep on growing (and) build this area.”

The new casino customers could also bring new residents to the area as well as additional businesses, Walker said.

And, although the casino has its own array of restaurants, gamblers are still venturing off campus for dining. The Newfound Lodge Restaurant on Tsali Boulevard garners a lot of business from the casino already, said Manager Larry Carpenter, adding that an increase in Harrah’s visitors can only mean good things for his dining venue.

However, it is hard to know exactly how many casino customers also spend their money at other Cherokee businesses since no surveys have been conducted.

“It’s tough to gauge,” Pegg said.


A resort town

Now that the state has approved live gaming and a $633-million casino expansion is nearing completion, Pegg said he is more optimistic that the casino management’s plans to make Cherokee a resort destination will actually materialize.

If Harrah’s is seen as a resort destination, customers staying for several days could spend part of their time gambling and the rest of their time on excursions such as whitewater rafting or fishing for Cherokee’s renowned trout.

Sequoyah National Golf Course was built to complement the major expansion of Harrah’s Casino. The course operates a Callaway golf store in the casino, which advertises the golf course’s existence to hotel guests and gamblers.

Sequoyah National, which is also owned by the tribe, hopes the new demographic of gamblers coming for the new table games will mean more visitors to the golf course, said Ryan Ott, general manager of the golf course. Because the course is a standalone operation, meaning it does not have a hotel or restaurant or real estate development to help support it, the golf course has struggled to survive with walk-up players.

The new table games will draw more 30-something males to the casino — a group that the golf course hopes to tap into as well, Ott said.

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