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Casino could be ‘magic bullet,’ at Rocky Gap, MEDCO boss says

Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Allegany County. (Alexander Pyles/The Daily Record)

A lot of Western Marylanders, casino experts, economists and stakeholders contributed to a story in Wednesday’s paper looking at the history and future of what is now called Rocky Gap Casino Resort.

Few had a more unique vantage point than Robert C. Brennan, executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corp., which owned the property when it was called Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort.

Brennan spoke with The Daily Record at length this week about the lodge, a project that he said failed as a hotel, conference center and golf resort but succeeded from an economic development perspective, driving some tourism to Allegany County. Only a small percentage of Brennan’s comments fit into today’s story.

For one thing, Brennan said it was difficult to lure people from Maryland’s more densely populated core.

“Getting people to go west, in my opinion, has always been difficult,” Brennan said. “My analogy’s always been ‘during the summer months, 300,000 people pack Ocean City, and I would love to have just had a small fraction of those people experience the western part of the state.’ We never had the big marketing dollars to attract people.”

Even with money for marketing, though, there was something missing at the resort from the start. Eventually, MEDCO realized “there needs to be something else to make this work” — even an indoor water park was once considered a viable option before a casino was decided on.

“One of the ‘something elses’ was gaming. I think putting a gaming facility at Rocky Gap is going to be the magic bullet that will make this successful for the long term,” Brennan said. “It’s not just a gaming facility, it’s a destination resort, and if you look at the gaming facilities in the state of Maryland, none of them have a hotel, golf course, conference center attached to them. It’s a totally different product.”

Brennan said Lakes Entertainment Inc. — parent company of casino operator Evitts Resort LLC — has an “exclusive” market out west, which could draw more heavily from West Virginia and Pennsylvania than it does from Maryland.

And while MEDCO’s leader has some regrets about how Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort was run — for instance, it “probably wasn’t the smartest thing” to keep on the original general manager when he broke away from Buena Vista Hospitality Group to start his own business, even though it “was the most affordable thing to do” — he hopes the property will become successful under Lakes.

“I kind of look at these things from a parental perspective. You look at this as one of your kids,” Brennan said. “This is another stage in its life. It’s graduated, it’s moving on. I’d like to think some of its future successes are, in part, rooted with some of the efforts we put forth.”