Eureka Casino interview: CEO Andre Carrier on resort expansion

May 24, 2024
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We spoke with returning guest, CEO Andre Carrier, about Eureka Casino Resort's expansion. He aims to not only change the look and feel of the casino, but to also build residential housing around it.

What can you tell us about the property reinvestment you’ve got going on?

The building itself will look very different. What it’s looked like for the last 25 years and what it’ll look like for the next should be very different. It’s funny, you don’t very often get a chance to change the way a casino looks. Every space on the inside, every last square foot of it, we’ll get remodeled and reimagined so it is in the best form and with the best functions, amenities-wise.

And then the next part is we have a lot of land adjacent to the property. And it appears the highest and best use of that land beyond our resort utilization will be residential.

So we have enough space where we want to have a diversity of residential options, everything from workforce housing for our folks and for the other folks in Mesquite that are still looking for the path to individual home ownership.

And then we want to have apartments. I would say resort-style condominiums, townhome living, because that’s really popular for those people who are seasonal residents, who someday may become full-time residents. So that’s the whole package of what we’ve announced. About $40m in the initial phase, which is really resort-centric. And then an additional probably $60m to realize the full residential and retail growth.

It’s amazing, the two different components, the casino resort and then the residential. Are there a lot of casino resorts that are looking at residential properties as well?

It’s a fair question. I think it may be unique to us because of the amount of land we have surrounding the property, and then the nature of what our abutters are. Our abutters are, predominantly, homes. So when you look at what you are going to build between homes and the casino building, it makes the most sense to build homes and then maybe some purposeful, well-thought-out retail that would also add to quality of life.

The piece of it that shouldn’t be – and may not be truthfully in the years to come – is workforce housing. I mean, my sense is that may be more topical in the years to come as we look to find answers to just how difficult it is to recruit and retain the workforce necessary to run these big, angry monsters that are resort casinos; they take a lot of time and a lot of talent every day to run.

For sure. Did we read correctly that you folks did two years of research before kicking off this redevelopment? What did your research find?

Yeah, so some of what we were trying to determine is: Is the highest and best use to continue to expand your resort platform? Or is the highest and best use something other than that? To just leave optionality, infinite optionality for yourselves. In that time, we looked at the big, moving trends: the growth in Washington County residentially and where those people were coming from.

What particularly was attracting them? What was the lifestyle that people were seeking when they were moving to southern Utah? It stands to reason that, ecosystem-wise, Mesquite to St. George or Washington County are pretty similar.

We researched how to find the balance when you’re in a town like Mesquite, where one of the reasons people like it is because it’s small, it’s intimate, it feels safe, it feels like a place I once knew, only warmer in the winter. So how do you design and how do you build and how do you have growth in mind but still serve that vision of the community? How do you do it right?

And the other thing we researched was our own employee-owners’ journey. The purpose of the ESOP [Employee Stock Ownership Plan] is a long-term retirement benefit. You hope you can find a path to provide the same value to someone who’s 55 today and will retire some time in the next 10 years, to someone who’s 25 today who really may not retire for 30 years. And if you think that way, you really have to change and think about a much longer horizon.

Obviously, when you’re talking about redevelopment, part of it as you mentioned earlier is remodeling, changing the look and feel of what you’re doing. Let’s talk a little bit about the changes we might expect to see at the resort itself. How are you hoping the feel or vibe of the new Eureka will be after this redevelopment?

If you think about it, casinos 25 years ago were dark places. And I mean that literally, the colors and the light content. Casino design has really changed to become really light. Not bright. But you can now have natural light as a component of a casino. Those are all things you’ll see in this next iteration of Eureka. And I think design matters. You want to go to a place where – and not every restaurant gets it, not every hotel gets it – you want to go into a place that says, this feels exciting and comfortable. I want to spend time here. I want to bring people here. This is fun.

So the customer we’re building for today, they just don’t like the same things. Their homes are probably decorated very differently. I think it’s time for us to build for the customer that we have today much more so than the customer we had 25 years ago, in what it feels like and looks like. Then we have to be mindful of the fact that we’re really wanting to build for a customer that is yet to come, in both amenity and feel.

What about this project excites you the most?

I love the idea of bringing something new to our employee-owners that they are proud of. As we’re finishing it, they look at it and they’re like, “This is so much nicer than I thought it would be. I feel so good about it. I want to work in that space. I’m proud of our business. I’m proud of our company.”

Then our long-term customer, I feel like they are members in a club. I really do. I feel like we run a country club in a way and they’ve been our members for years. And I love to do a clubhouse remodel that they just are excited about and want their friends from Wyoming to come down and stay at the club, and visit with them for a few days. I just love that reaction, that excitement that comes with it. That’s what makes us really animated to do it.

That’s cool. Now, we’re having this conversation while you’re in New Hampshire at Eureka’s other property, The Brook. How are things going over there right now?

So we just unveiled a lot of new amenities there. We just opened and remodeled the sportsbook there, with a massive 19-by-140-foot screen, a massive, curved screen there and completely remodeled that just in time for the [NBA and NHL] playoffs and most importantly we opened it for the Kentucky Derby. There is a new smoking parlor, which we had not had. We’ve unveiled a lot of new outdoor areas and we’ll continue to do that all summer long, as we expand off our deck into the old track.

And we are building a new restaurant, which we will open this summer with a long-time restauranter in New Hampshire, the Wong Family. We'll announce the name in probably the next month [at the time of writing]. Currently, we call it “Project Dragon.” Because it’s the year of the dragon, so it’s an appropriate name for a Chinese restaurant being built this year.

That’s awesome. We’re almost halfway through 2024. How’s the year been so far for you folks?

I think it’s been good. All of us continue to wonder if the consumer is going to start to have some wallet restrictions. We’re clearly watching the amount of consumer debt and the cost of consumer debt and how that affects vacation and travel. We’re certainly sensitive to pricing in the hospitality business and just trying to keep up with the cost of labor and food means your money doesn’t go as far as it did four years ago.

And so we’re watching to see if that causes some retraction in visitation or numbers of days or total spend. I like these times when you’re not taking anything for granted, but you’re grateful that business continues to be strong. You appreciate every person who comes in because you know it’s not infinite.

What can we expect out of you guys for the last half of 2024?

We have two new restaurants. So the first part of the Eureka phase three will debut probably in September and that’s the expansion of Gregory’s, and the opening of Project Dragon in New Hampshire. We’ll also probably have more to share about the remodel amenities, specifically that they can expect in this phase one of the remodel.

 

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