At first blush, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is competing with itself by opening a new casino in Murphy just 55 miles from its main casino and resort in Cherokee. But those 55 miles make a huge difference.
Harrah’s tracks where its gamblers come from by issuing everyone who plays at the casino a Total Rewards card.
There are 400,000 card holders in a 300-mile radius around the main casino in Cherokee. But there are 2.2 million cardholders in the 300-mile radius around the new casino in Murphy.
That’s a 300-percent increase in market reach.
The customer base for the new casino won’t detract substantially from the flagship property, which has a full resort experience including a spa, pool, major concert venue, fine dining and shopping.
“It is the complete experience,” said Brooks Robinson, the general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort in Cherokee. “Gaming is still the main driver for the property in terms of revenue. But the hospitality offerings we have allows us to compete with other resort properties out there.”
The main casino in Cherokee sees between 3.5 million and 4 million visitors a year.
The addition of table games with live dealers several years ago succeeded in targeting a younger demographic.
“Where we used to skew in the slot world to the 55-plus female guest, it is now starting to trend somewhat younger, still dominate to a female guest but not as great as it was in the past,” Robinson said.
As for the new casino, Robinson said the jury is still out on the demographic of the average visitor, but hopefully there won’t be a lot of overlap.
“We are going to try to have them compliment each other. The resort is a resort, it has all the amenities and almost the luxury type feel to it. The casino and hotel we are building at Valley River, it is really more of a day trip opportunity,” Robinson said.
Murphy is closer to the capital of five other states than it is to Raleigh. It’s actually not that far from Alabama, where people could now choose to go to a casino on the Gulf Coast or Murphy. The main casino in Cherokee was just a bit too far to compete for that visitor.
“We will now be an hour and a half closer,” Robinson said.
A sampling of visitors from the crowd on opening day Monday was rather reflective of the geographic draw the casino strategists were betting on — many of them from the north Georgia and southern Tennessee area.
“It’s so much closer than Cherokee,” said Walt Danley, 71, from Chattanooga, who took a break from blackjack to talk with a reporter.
Some locals in the region came out of curiosity as well.
Connie Barnett, 55, of Franklin, arrived about 11 a.m. despite doors not opening until 2 p.m. Since Barnett is local and doesn’t stay overnight, she doesn’t care that the new casino lacks amenities like shopping and fine dining.
“That’s not that important to me because my thing is just games,” Barnett said.
In fact, the food court is perfect to Lerieta Jones, 65, of Robbinsville.
“I love the food court. I love it because you have your choice,” Jones said. Jones isn’t necessarily a new customer, however. She was a regular at the casino in Cherokee, but that could change now.
“I will be coming over here to play. It’s closer,” Jones said.