Scarecrows haunt the streets of White Sulphur Springs, WVa, this time of year but more than ghosts and goblins threaten the once-thriving town where the main source of employment, The Greenbrier, has fallen on hard times.
I rode up Rte. 311 from Salem to Whilte Sulphur Springs on my motorcycle recently, passing through Paint Bank and Crows before continuing on to the hometown of West Virginia’s most famous resort.
I hadn’t been in White Sulphur Springs for more than 20 years. What I found was depressing. Empty stores line both sides of Main Street (U.S. 60) in the town of 2,000 people where the legendary resort hotel at one time employed 1,300.
As The New York Times reports:
Working at The Greenbrier resort, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for 11 years meant many months of bad news, said Lynn Swann, its director of public relations. From 2003 to 2009, the luxury resort that dates from 1778 lost $90 million. It is the largest employer, with 1,300 jobs, in a town of 2,000 and a county of 35,000 with few other opportunities.
The resort filed for bankruptcy protection in March but was sold in May to Jim Justice, a prominent West Virginia businessman. Under Justice, the resort has begun construction of an underground gambling complex and is opening an additional restaurant on October 1.
The mood is more optimistic now, Swann said. But in the darkest days, “I just wanted to crawl into a hole,” she said. To manage her stress, Swann has tried everything: the soothing music of the Swiss harpist musician Andreas Vollenweider, reading thrillers, aromatherapy in her office, weekly papaya facial masks and plastering her office walls with inspirational quotations. Her 8-year-old daughter, she added, gives great hand massages.
While the Greenbrier’s public relations director hopes for better times, that hope is not shared by some of the locals I talked to. Behind the counter at an Exxon station on Main Street, the woman wouldn’t tell me her name but said “it will take more than a casino” to return White Sulphur Springs to its glory days.
In a town where church and religion still matters, Matt Lawson said “gambling is not the answer. Some people here ain’t happy about bringing gambling to the area.”
State gaming officials have run into conflict of interest charges as well. Reports The Wheeling News Register in an editorial:
The very fact that West Virginia Lottery Commission employees had to ask a certain question about ethics is a sad commentary on their ability to distinguish right from wrong.
Last week, the state Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion stating that it would be improper for The Greenbrier resort to provide room rate discounts to Lottery Commission employees.
Of course it would. The Greenbrier has begun offering table gambling to guests. Lottery Commission employees regulate gambling. That is a clear conflict of interest.
According to The Associated Press, “the discount question arose because some lottery workers have lengthy commutes after working long hours at the resort.” If so, the Lottery Commission should cover their lodging costs – perhaps at hotels or motels less pricey than The Greenbrier.
We think most West Virginians understand the conflict in state workers accepting favors from entities they regulate. It is disturbing that the regulators had to be told that.
And the casino isn’t open to just anyone. Reports Casino Gambling:
This might not be the luxurious casino that Greenbrier voters approved last November, but it is a start. The Greenbrier opened its doors to members of The Greenbrier Sporting Club on Thursday evening (Oct. 1) for the first time.
At 6PM, the doors opened and the casino gambling began. Included in the list of games available at the Tavern Casino will be roulette, blackjack and three card poker. The slot machine players will have to wait until later this month before the machines are operational.
The end result to Greenbrier’s plan may not come until April of next year. That is when the $25 million, underground casino will be complete. The full-scale casino will be open to all members of the Sporting Club, and also to guests staying at the hotel.
In order for guests to play in the casino, there has to be a minimum of 400 rooms occupied at a time. Guests of the Sporting Club will also be allowed into the casino to gamble. The casino is a way for the Greenbrier to increase their revenue.
“With the type of clientele that are a part of the Greenbrier Sporting Club, there is going to be some high stakes gambling taking place,” said Casino Gaming Analysts Steve Schwartz, “The key will be whether the casino will continue to see strong revenues once the original attraction wears off.”
The casino will be open from 11AM to 3AM Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, the casino will be open from 2PM to 3AM. The Greenbrier received clearance to open Thursday after the West Virginia Lottery Commission approved that everything was up to regulations at a walk through on Wednesday evening.