The fourth of the four casinos approved for the “northern tier” of New York state opened in February. Kevin Kline, the COO and GM of Resorts World Catskills, explains why the best was saved for last as it’s closer to New York City and has a powerful relationship with the Resorts World family of brands. Kline has had a long history with Harrah’s/Caesars Entertainment and came to Resorts World Catskills from a previous position with an Ohio casino.
GGB: This has been a really long time coming for the Catskills region. They’ve been talking about casinos in the Catskills for decades. What’s the general mood in the company approaching the opening?
Kevin Kline: There are a lot of folks who have been really focused on this opportunity for a very long time. Many of our executives at Empire Resorts have been part of this journey, dating back quite a while. I will tell you that, as someone who’s just joined Empire Resorts and is embedded now here at Resorts World Catskills, there is a tremendous anticipation, as you would expect—just an amazing energy throughout the property. And there is a genuine pride to see this magnificently designed and programmed property come to life.
What’s the reaction in the community so far to the debut here?
There are many stakeholders who have been very engaged at the government and community levels, making the case that this was the right location for one of the upstate licenses. So there’s a high degree of anticipation to see this finally come to reality, and similarly, there’s a lot of pride up here for what the Catskills was, and for what we have the opportunity to re-create in this new form.
How many employees have you hired, and are they mostly from the surrounding areas?
(As of) right now, we’ve hired close to 1,300. We’ll continue to ramp as the rest of the property scales to about 1,700 team members. As somebody who gets around to all of our team member orientations, one of the things that I like to do is to ask folks to raise their hands and ask how many people are from Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties. We have done an amazing job of activating the local community, and finding some amazing team members as part of our Resorts World Catskills team. There’s so much enthusiasm and so much pride from the team that we’ve hired to be part of this opening, and to really be part of that revitalization of this region. It’s been a great story from a local employment perspective.
How far is Resorts World Catskills from Manhattan?
We’re 90 miles from New York City. It’s a pretty straight shot. And obviously, that’s to Manhattan; the surrounding New York metro is much larger, and so we have a great opportunity within that captive market to get our fair share and more of that business. We expect to have a major presence in this Northeast market.
This is the fourth casino approved several years ago by the state of New York in the Northern Tier region. The others ones haven’t performed that very well. Why will Resorts World Catskills be different?
We’re very different. We are not a regional casino. I mean, being 90 miles away from New York City, we’ve created an integrated destination resort, and that experience is meant to complement our location here in the Catskills.
The hotel product is 332 all-suite rooms, penthouses and villas, along with 100,000 square feet of gaming. In addition to competing for the premium mass market, we’re also focusing on VIP premium gaming, and we think we can be very competitive. Our property’s been designed to accommodate the premium Asian customer. We’ve built a very authentic Asian gaming and food offering, that provides both traditional and modern cultural influences.
We have a world-class upscale full-service spa and fitness, and a multi-purpose entertainment venue, with 27,000 square feet for entertainment, conventions and meetings.
We are redesigning and bringing back the iconic Monster Golf Course in 2019.
Part of our campus is going to include the Kartrite, a luxury lodge and indoor water park, that will open up early part of next year, with another 350 rooms.
We’re looking to build a service environment and a guest experience that will reach five-star, five-diamond standards. So, everything has been added within our footprint to be a true integrated destination resort that becomes a major draw.
Genting runs the most lucrative casino in the country, in Resorts World New York City. Do you have access to the list that they’ve built up down there?
One of the benefits of being a Resorts World brand are those cross-market opportunities. We’ve coordinated some efforts to come out of the gate and ramp up our property. We’ve been able to leverage the Resorts World database to get folks in here and get them excited about Resorts World Catskills as a premium experience to keep tourism and gaming revenues in the state of New York.
It’s a nice way to start, knowing that we can go out there and contact those who are familiar with the brand, and begin to introduce them to a new and unforgettable experience of Las Vegas-style gaming in the Catskills.