The general manager for Caesars Virginia, the casino resort coming to Danville in 2024, arrived in town last week. Chris Albrecht is coming from Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was general manager of Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack for six years.
He’s also worked with casino operations in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Cincinnati.
Albrecht has almost two decades of experience working with Caesars, but this project in Danville will be different from other casinos he’s managed.
Unlike a place like Vegas, the casino and the community have an opportunity to work closely together in Danville, Albrecht said. He plans to hire many employees locally and work with local businesses and restaurants to promote the things that Danville has to offer, aside from the casino.
Cardinal sat down for an interview with Albrecht on Tuesday morning. The following is an edited Q&A with the Caesars Virginia general manager:
Q: Tell me about yourself and the path that brought you to Danville.
A: I’ve been with Caesars for 17 and a half years. I joined the company out of business school. At the time, there was a management trainee program called the president’s associate program, and I started with the company in Lake Tahoe in the slots path. I learned all about slot operations, slot analytics, slot machines, and I did that for a little under a year. Then I got the opportunity to move down to Las Vegas and become a director of slots for what at the time was the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. From there, I just continued to get different and exciting jobs within the company. It took me from Las Vegas to New Orleans to Cincinnati, which is where I had the opportunity to open a casino there, the Horseshoe Cincinnati. That was my first real, big opening experience and I was the assistant general manager on that project. From there, I moved to our property just south of Chicago in Indiana. And for the past six-plus years, I’ve been the general manager for Harrah’s Philadelphia in Chester, Pennsylvania, and now we have the exciting job to do another opening and come down to Danville to open Caesars Virginia.
Q: What does the general manager position entail? What will you be doing?
A: Essentially overseeing the entire operation, which is exciting. And, of course, building a team out that will help support me in a lot of these endeavors. We are on a path to bring Caesars Virginia here, and right now we’re very involved in different community engagements as well. Being a part of a casino that’s the only casino in the community is very different than if you work in Las Vegas, right? So a lot of what we do involves working with the city of Danville, with our regulators and the Virginia Lottery, and issues related to anything on the legislative front. And then opening and operating a full-scale casino with games and restaurants, entertainment, convention center, a hotel and all the excitement to come with that. I’m really looking forward to all that.
Q: Right now, Virginia doesn’t have any full-scale casino resorts, unlike many other states. What will be different about this operation than your previous experience in bigger cities with more casinos?
A: When you’re in Las Vegas, people come from all different locations. I think we will attract a lot of regional and even some national guests here, but in this kind of market, most of your customer base does come from within a closer mileage distance from where you operate. I’m familiar with that, from working outside of Philadelphia, Chicago and Cincinnati, those are all very similar experiences. But this is going to be the largest casino I have been a part of and the most full-scale. The last couple of properties I had, for example, didn’t have hotels, pools, spas, so I would say this is one of the nicer and larger regional casinos you will see in the country.
Q: News broke a few weeks ago about a temporary casino coming before the permanent casino resort. What else can you tell us about that?
A: Unfortunately, I can’t say any more than what has been already said by the company, but hopefully at some point soon you and I can sit down and talk about that. We’ve seen the results [in Bristol] and they’re very good.
Q: What are you most looking forward to when it comes to opening this operation in Danville?
A: The number one thing is building a team. It’s a rare opportunity to build your entire team from the ground floor. You’re talking about hundreds of jobs and people that are going to come from all different places. Just in my short hiring so far with my executive team, we’ve got a great diverse set of leaders coming from both the city of Danville, including three Averett grads, and other team members now coming from within the casino business. A couple of folks are coming from California. So it’s exciting to be able to put together that team. When I interview folks, I’m not just looking at the individual. I’m seeing how the team would fit together, because I can do that from scratch. And then, of course, just seeing how the casino gets built up within the community and how that all fits together. We are not going to be an inside insular operation. We want the success of the other businesses around us, and we want to see other businesses from around us support this operation. Customers will choose to continue to come back here the more they see what Danville has to offer beyond just Caesars Virginia. You see a lot of activity already happening here in the River District area, which is a cool place to live and be able to walk around and see the bones of growth already happening. I think we’ll be able to add that and hopefully elevate it.
Q: What kind of obstacles or challenges are you keeping your eye out for?
A: There’s just a lot to do. There’s not any one particular thing. I would also say that the job market is different now than when I did this last. While I don’t know the Danville market yet specifically, I know that in the global market, people are less willing to work right now. It’s definitely harder to fill positions across the board. That’s in the back of our minds when we come to fill these jobs. We need to realize we’re dealing with a different workforce than when we did this a decade ago. Something else we need to make sure we’re on top of is having enough housing as we bring more people in. These are two issues that I would consider high on my list to keep in mind to make this an overall success. There are a lot of [housing] projects in place, but there needs to be a continued focus. I’m going to work on hiring as local and regional as I can, but we are going to be importing people and they need to find places to live near that workplace.
Q: The Averett hospitality program was announced last week. How will that impact the challenges of the labor market?
A: That’s huge, having a program that helps feed more candidates. And not just for us, but again for these businesses in town that also need to hire staff, we want to make sure that the entire community benefits from that program beyond us. Certainly, we’ll be a big part of it. We have a lot of hospitality jobs, but there are other hospitality jobs, hotels, restaurants, bars here that should benefit as well. I had a chance to be around here for the weekend, and I think we will bring more people that come here on weekends. That’s an option for some of these businesses to be a little more open and active, on Sundays, for example. And then they’ll just need people, so hopefully the hospitality program with that, it’ll just kind of feed itself. There’ll be more demand and businesses will want to be open when there’s people looking for something to do.
Q: Do you have any idea of how many people you’ll be hiring locally and how many people you’ll be bringing in?
A: All of our big hiring events will be done locally. So the intention is to get as many people locally as possible. Just from a logistics standpoint, it’s good to have people that are already in the area and live near the site. But I know there’ll be people that come from other cities within Virginia, and I’m sure people that are on the North Carolina side as well.
Q: What kind of relationship do you anticipate between community and casino? What will that look like?
A: There are already great services in the community that we’ll rely on for our guests to get out to. We’ll utilize the local golf courses for our players to go out and enjoy. We will need other hotels. We’re going to build a 500-room hotel, but the amount of guests we’re expecting, or when we host meetings or businesses, we’ll need the other hotels that are already here. And we’ll need more hotels to come to support that business. With restaurants, same thing. Our customers will enjoy our restaurants, but we want them to come out to enjoy the restaurants downtown especially when there are activities happening and fun things happening in Danville. I got to experience my first Brew Fest this past weekend, and that’s something we want our customers to come to from all around. You see it with the local businesses and the local government, they know this is an exciting project. Everyone looks like they’re ready to make this shared success and shared growth.