BRISTOL, Va. — A temporary casino is rapidly taking shape inside the former Bristol Mall, and it’s expected to open around Memorial Day while the permanent version and other major amenities are expected in 2024.
Construction of the temporary space inside the former Belk women’s store is on schedule, and operators Hard Rock International have hired some of the executive team that will run the facility. They expect to expand hiring very soon, Hard Rock Chief Operating Officer Jon Lucas told the Bristol Herald Courier on Friday.
“We are excited to be a part of the community,” Lucas said. “The community response has been nothing short of excellent. People have really embraced us and been so helpful and cooperative.”
Lucas and members of the Hard Rock staff were in town for two events — on Friday to meet with prospective vendors and today to speak with potential employees at programs hosted by The Foundation event facility.
Lucas said the temporary facility is “on track,” and they hope to open it in late May or by June 1.
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“The temporary facility will be called the ‘Bristol Casino, future home of Hard Rock.’ When we call it Hard Rock, it must have all the important elements that go with a Hard Rock hotel casino,” Lucas said.
“While it will be nice it will be nothing like the Hard Rock that we will build as a permanent facility. It will be in a section of the mall planned for phase two. Once we build this it will not interfere with the construction of the permanent facility,” Lucas said.
Lucas said the temporary facility will offer a representative sample of gaming with limited dining options.
“The temporary will have a sit-down restaurant of 200 seats. We’ll have a grab-and-go, which will have about 30 seats. We’ll have a sports bar with sports betting and the sports bar will serve food as well,” Lucas said. “Plans currently call for about 875 slot machines and 22 table games. The space will include a separate non-smoking area with a separate entrance. There will be a high limit area with slots and tables and our player’s club, a retail shop and ample parking.”
All of that is predicated on the casino receiving Virginia Lottery Board approval of its gaming license, which they are currently working on.
“We’ve submitted all of our applications, both as individuals and companies with our partners, and we are awaiting approval of our licenses,” Lucas said. “The Virginia Lottery has been incredibly cooperative. We have a monthly meeting with them at the job site, and they couldn’t be any more helpful to help us move this along.”
The permanent casino will be constructed in the former Sears store, and that is also on schedule.
“Simultaneous to working on the temporary casino, we are working on the permanent planning and scope and programming. That is moving along parallel with the temporary casino. We expect to have it open in 2024,” he said. “We still anticipate a 300-room hotel, good sized casino, lots of food and beverage outlets and Hard Rock Live. All those components are there with phase two, including the second hotel tower and probably additional retail, but the phase I scope is pretty much as we discussed it prior.”
Lucas said more than 200 people participated in the vendor program, and they were out of spaces for today’s event with potential employees.
“We had a great turnout with 200 people. While we have a few national contracts, corporate contracts, to take advantage of price and economies of scale,” Lucas said. “When we go to a community, it’s important to involve the local community and local vendors and be a part of that community. That’s an important component of who we are as a company.
“These sessions are great to tell them a little bit about the types of services that we have or need, how they have to go through the vendor licensing process and what our process is, as a company, and educate them about our industry since the industry is new to these parts. Secondly, it’s what the opportunities might be for all these folks. We had a lot of great questions and a lot of great interactions, so it was a real exciting time today,” he said.
Lucas said Hard Rock has selected its president of the property, vice president of marketing, vice president of human resources, food and beverage, executive chef and director of facilities and many are already on the job.
Today’s job fair is in advance of the next round of hiring.
“Some of it is informational, and some of it is beginning to interview some of the positions that will come on a little bit earlier than others,” Lucas said. “We are preparing a dealers training school as we take about six weeks to train people on the various games we have dealers for, and that process will start hiring here shortly as well.”
Other important positions that will be hired soon are for security and surveillance of the construction site and human resources personnel to aid with the hiring process.
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