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Caesars names its GM for Baltimore casino

The assistant general manager of a Bossier City, La., casino will be the first general manager for Harrah’s Baltimore, the proposed gambling facility on Russell Street.

Chad Barnhill promises to build good relationships between Harrah’s Baltimore and other local businesses.

Chad Barnhill, assistant general manager at Horseshoe Casino and Hotel for the last 2½ years, was announced as the Baltimore general manager by Caesars Entertainment Corp. Tuesday at the future casino’s still-barren construction site next to a Holiday Inn Express.

John Payne, a Caesars president, said Barnhill was selected because he is “one of the best.”

“I look for someone who can really be ingrained in the community,” Payne said. That means establishing “extensive partnerships” with local businesses, especially area hotels and restaurants, he said. Caesars, which leads CBAC Gaming LLC, the group licensed to operate the Baltimore casino, does not have immediate plans to build a hotel, creating an opportunity for other city hotels.

Barnhill said downtown hotels are close enough to the casino site for customers to walk there, but added that “if we need to provide shuttles to the customers, we will.”

“It’s such a great city,” said Barnhill, who was offered the job two weeks ago and plans to move to Maryland in January. “Building casinos downtown is really a new concept [for our company].”

The spillover effect of casino business is part of what the state is looking for, said Christian S. Johansson, secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, who joined casino executives and Baltimore elected officials at Tuesday afternoon’s event introducing Barnhill.

State fiscal analysts predict Maryland casino gambling will be a $2 billion industry by 2017, but Johansson said the impact goes beyond money spent in the casinos. Hotels, restaurants and suppliers also benefit, he said.

“We’re still getting our hands around what all of this will look like,” Johansson said, likening the Baltimore casino to the impact of M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens and easily visible to the north.

Like those going to games, people visiting the casino will “venture out and explore” the rest of the city, he predicted.

Barnhill said he would “work with the city” to ensure good relationships between the casino and other local businesses. He also said he will work with the city’s Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, which last week rejected initial plans for the casino, to create an appropriate facility for the area.

Interior design, Caesars executives said, is especially up in the air. If voters approve Question 7 on the ballot in November’s election, table games such as black jack and poker will be allowed in every Maryland casino. Johansson said legalization of table games would crate 2,300 jobs, including 500 at Harrah’s Baltimore.

Table games also would allow Caesars to market the Baltimore facility to its 40,000 regular customers.

“This is a regional casino that will attract national customers,” Payne said.

Caesars has previously operated just one slots-only facility — Harrah’s Philadelphia, formerly named Harrah’s Chester in Chester, Pa. When Pennsylvania legalized table games in 2010, there was “a big growth in that business,” Payne said.

The company also is working on adding slots to its Thistledown horseracing track in Ohio.

Barnhill, who will be opening his first casino, has been with Caesars for 18 years since graduating from Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Western Kentucky University in 2008.

The $375 million Harrah’s Baltimore is scheduled to open in mid-2014 with 3,750 slot machines and seven restaurants or bars, including a 200-seat “premium steakhouse” and 165-seat sports bar and restaurant. The casino says it will hire 2,000 construction workers and 1,200 people to run the facility, and has already set up a website to take applications.

Barnhill said a “high percentage” of local people would be hired to fill the jobs.

If voters approve Question 7 on the November ballot, much more than the legal status of tables will change. A sixth casino, in Prince George’s County, could then be licensed and every Maryland casino would be allowed to stay open 24 hours a day.