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Can Willie Nelson, slots revive Rocky Gap?

Associated Press//November 8, 2011

Can Willie Nelson, slots revive Rocky Gap?

By Associated Press

//November 8, 2011

FLINTSTONE — Two companies vying for a state permit to bring up to 1,000 slot machines to a struggling resort inside Rocky Gap State Park dangled Willie Nelson and a water park Tuesday before the commission that will select the licensee next year.

The Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in the Appalachian Mountains 130 miles west of Baltimore is one of five slots venues Maryland voters approved in 2008. The quasi-public Maryland Economic Development Corporation, which owns the resort, hopes gambling will enable the scenic hotel complex to finally blossom into the tourist destination and economic anchor that planners envisioned when it opened in 1998.

The licensee would have to buy the resort, which is about $60 million in debt, including about $40 million owed to bondholders. Donald C. Fry, chairman of the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission said the bondholders will be asked to accept less to make the project work.

Fry’s panel heard Tuesday from Evitts Resort LLC, a joint venture between publicly owned casino operator Lakes Entertainment Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn., and developer Paragon Project Resources Inc., of Irving, Texas. It also heard from Landow Partners LLC, a Bethesda-based development firm owned by former Maryland Democratic Party head Nathan Landow, which lost out to Penn National Gaming Inc. earlier this year in bidding for the Rosecroft Raceway horse racing track in Prince George’s County.

At Rocky Gap, Landow is proposing a casino, initially with 500 machines, that would become the new front entrance to the lodge. He told the commission the casino would expand to 1,000 machines within a year, and a car museum featuring 20 antique and vintage cars would be added to resort.

Landow also would spend $4 million to $6 million to renovate the 215-room hotel.

“We think the public space needs work. The whole lobby area and restaurant area will change,” he said.

Landow also proposed adding a concert venue that would feature entertainers such as Willie Nelson and Tony Bennett.

“Not the top entertainers — it’s the next tier down,” he said.

Landow’s project would create 450 permanent jobs, he said.

Evitts officials said their $62 million proposal would create 480 casino and resort jobs. The casino would be attached to one end of the lodge, with a separate hotel entrance for those under 21.

The casino would open with 850 slots and expand to 1,000 in the second year, said Enrique Melendez of Paragon.

Longer-term plans call for 300 more hotel rooms and two more restaurants at the resort.

“Phase II, we’ll do further analysis,” Melendez said. “Do we look at retail? Do we look a mini-golf park? Do we do a water park? We’re going to look at all that.”

The bidders said they aim to make the resort a regional destination to capture gambling dollars that would otherwise be spent in neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The panel expects to select a licensee early next year.


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