Moving to Maryland has been a learning experience for Chad Barnhill, general manager of the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino that will fill the sweeping vacant lot currently greeting drivers coming into the city on Russell Street.
At home within the walls of a casino — he's worked for Caesars Entertainment since graduating from college in 1994 — this is the first time he's overseen the building of a new facility.
When he's not meeting with city officials regarding building permits, he's addressing neighborhood associations concerned about what plopping a casino near their houses might mean. He watched as the city's architectural review board slammed proposed designs for the building, and he was there when it approved a revised plan.
Horseshoe won't open for gambling until the middle of next year, but Barnhill has spent most of the past seven months here. His family will relocate from Louisiana after the school year ends.
You left a well-established gambling enclave called Bossier City in Louisiana to oversee the construction and opening of a casino in a major metropolitan area in Maryland, where gaming is still something of a controversial issue. What made you take that leap (besides the promotion to general manager)?
Moving to Baltimore to oversee this project represents a great opportunity, both personally and professionally.
On the personal level, my family and I will get to enjoy the area's rich history, great national and international attractions, and wide range of cultural activities. From Fort McHenry to the Ravens and Orioles to all the fantastic restaurants and festivals, Baltimore is a vibrant and exciting city. ...
Professionally, this is an opportunity to help develop and operate a world-class casino in a significant growth market. It's true that casino gambling isn't as well established here as it is in Bossier City or other parts of the country, but that's part of the appeal. Horseshoe Baltimore will help shape this market and set the standard for what casino customers throughout the region expect. What's more, it will be the region's only urban casino, complementing great adjacent entertainment offerings that aren't available to the state's suburban or rural gaming venues. I firmly believe that Horseshoe Baltimore will extend the tourism district south from M&T Bank Stadium and help create a dynamic entertainment district and revitalized gateway to the city.
Maryland Live Casino has been up and running for almost a year and has become a comfortable home for many of the state's gamblers. Not only that, you can purchase just about any consumer good ever created right next door. How can Horseshoe compete with an entrenched casino that has such amenities?
We have several competitive advantages that other casinos can't replicate. First, we have the industry's best player loyalty program in Total Rewards. In this region alone, we already count nearly a million casino players as loyal customers. These are guests who play at our other properties and know the unmatched experience we deliver. Horseshoe Baltimore guests will earn great rewards they can use at the casino as well as other great attractions and venues throughout the city. ...
We're also the only casino in Maryland that will give its players access to the largest and richest sporting event on the planet: the World Series of Poker. That puts us in a league of our own. Through our World Series of Poker Circuit events, players can win huge prizes here in Baltimore as well as seats in the annual World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Since 1970, we've awarded more than $1.5 billion to World Series of Poker players.
Voters in the state have supported gaming because a majority of revenue from slot machines — 67 percent — was going back to Maryland, primarily to fund schools. But casino interests have been pushing to lower that number. Where does Caesars fall on this issue? Can it run the Baltimore casino with a tax rate higher than 50 percent on slots?
Maryland voters last November approved Question 7, which recognized that the addition of a new license for Prince George's County would make an already tough operating environment even tougher if the state's gaming tax rate was not made more competitive with neighboring states.
We supported Question 7, and we believe Maryland voters made the right decision. We plan to build and operate a successful casino — one that delivers real economic development and increased tourism to Baltimore, generates thousands of good jobs, and becomes an important revenue stream for the state and local governments — within the parameters of current law.
It's important that the gaming tax rate for casinos in Maryland encourage the state's casino operators to continue to reinvest here, rather than in other states that might have more attractive tax environments. More investment will mean more casino jobs as well as casinos that are better able to compete for the business of customers who have many options in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Academics such as Earl Grinols at Baylor have estimated the negative social impact of gambling far outweighs the benefit of increased tax revenue. How would you respond to that critique, and what will Horseshoe do to ensure vulnerable citizens in Baltimore don't succumb to problem gambling?
Those allegations of "social costs" have been around for years, and they have been thoroughly dismissed. It's worth noting that the federal government's National Gambling Impact Study Commission found nothing to support Grinols' claims in its comprehensive 1999 report on the impacts of gambling. And it's also worth noting the more recent research by scholars at Harvard Medical School demonstrating that rates of pathological gambling have held steady in the United States despite the enormous increase in the availability of legal gambling over the last several decades.
The facts show that casinos are positive influences on their home communities — that's why they've been welcomed in Maryland and many other states and have become well-respected members of the business community.
Caesars Entertainment nevertheless understands that problem gambling is a legitimate concern for some people. The company has long been the industry's leader in promoting responsible gaming. Our position is simple and unequivocal. We want everyone who gambles at our casinos to be there for the right reason: to have fun. We don't want people who don't gamble responsibly to play at our casinos, or at any casinos. In fact, responsible gaming is a key element of what we refer to as our Code of Commitment — the principles that govern the way we do business, interact with our guests and engage the communities in which we operate.
We continually train our employees to spot the signs of problem gaming and address them, and we work closely with the National Council on Problem Gambling and its local affiliates and other related services to promote a better understanding of problem gaming — including funding ongoing research on the issue.
You've only been here a few months, but it's time to check your Baltimore knowledge (and taste in food): Where's your go-to spot for dinner, and what's your favorite dish?
This is a tougher question than you might think. I've been to any number of great eateries in Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill, Little Italy, Greektown and other neighborhoods throughout the city. We're looking forward to introducing the customers we bring to Baltimore from throughout the region to many of these same establishments. In terms of my favorite dish, I've been struck by the same love of crab cakes that I imagine every transplant before me has developed.
Title: Senior vice president and general manager, Horseshoe Baltimore
Previous job: Assistant general manager, Horseshoe Bossier City
Education: Bachelor's degree from Millikin University (Ill.); master of business administration from Western Kentucky
Family: Wife, Nikki, and two kids
Hobbies/interests: Golf, spending time with familyCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun