Casino bus trips violate rules
West Virginia Lottery officials have barred The Greenbrier from allowing bus tour companies to advertise casino trips to the resort.
Officials decided the trips violated state rules regulating who can use the casino.
They now will spend the next month defining what constitutes an official "event" at the resort, to make sure the rules aren't broken again.
At issue were several bus trips booked with The Greenbrier that promoted the resort's casino.
When the Legislature approved casino gambling at The Greenbrier in 2009, lawmakers wanted to limit games to overnight guests.
However, Lottery officials asked the Legislature to carve out an exemption to let people use the casino when all of the resort's hotel rooms were booked.
The exemption was intended to allow people registered for conferences and conventions at The Greenbrier to use the casino, even if they had to book a room at another hotel due to lack of rooms.
Last month the Lottery Commission approved a rule that allowed people attending other events, such as The Greenbrier Classic, to use the casino, so long as 400 or more rooms were occupied at the hotel.
Lottery Director John Musgrave was quoted at the time as saying the commission wanted to make it easier for people attending hotel events to use the casino, without opening it up to the general public. But he said they don't want the rule to be exploited.
"We don't want buses pulling up and unloading folks just for the purpose of going to the casino," Musgrave told the Charleston Gazette.
But the next day Musgrave received a call saying that very thing was happening.
He said when Lottery officials began looking into the matter, they discovered 12 bus tour companies were regularly booking what they called "day trips" to the resort.
While the trips plugged other amenities like golf, fall foliage and The Greenbrier's Bunker tour, they also advertised $15 and more in complimentary slot machine credits at the resort's casino.
That, Musgrave said, was crossing the line.
"We looked into it and we found that, absolutely, The Greenbrier was not in compliance when it comes to bus trips," Musgrave said.
"What makes this a violation for us is that you cannot have a trip like this advertised to come to The Greenbrier strictly for the sole purpose of going to the casino - the casino is restricted," he said.
Commissioner David McCormick said the tours were not what the Legislature had in mind when it opened up the casino to more than just hotel guests.
"I think the intent of the law was probably to accommodate the people that were not staying at the hotel when they were attending the (Chamber of Commerce) Business Summit . . . not unloading busloads of people at The Greenbrier," McCormick said.
Greenbrier attorney Brian Helmick said resort executives weren't aware the day trips were being sold as casino junkets. He said after Lottery officials brought up the issue with resort management last week, they began work to stop the practice.
"We've had conversations with each of the vendors that have advertised that to make sure that is stopped immediately and that that will not occur," Helmick said.
Now the Lottery Commission wants to come up with a better rule that more clearly defines what an "event" truly is.
Musgrave said the current definition is any activity booked in advance with The Greenbrier in which a person spends more than $20 to participate.
"What we won't allow is a group of folks pulling up in a van, going through in a buffet line or to sit down in the dining room having lunch, and then saying, 'We're here to go to the casino,' " he said. "It has to be an event that is planned along with The Greenbrier."
Helmick said the resort is using that definition to book events and will have all events that meet the criteria pre-approved before they happen.
"To be considered an event, it must be organized and coordinated with the staff at the hotel," he said. "The staff at the hotel would make sure that fits the requirements and then submit that to the lottery staff on site prior to (the event occurring)."
Musgrave also pointed out that even if it is considered an official "event," the requirement stands that 400 rooms be booked before non-hotel guests can enter the casino.
"There has to be 400 rooms occupied by guests registered at The Greenbrier before any persons that are there for events can enter the casino," he said.
Even if tour groups or other companies do book legitimate daytime events at The Greenbrier, commission members emphasized those guests still are to be barred from the casino floor if the hotel has fewer than 400 rooms occupied.
"That's a risk the bus companies and the tourists take," Commissioner Michael Adams said. "I'm hoping that these bus companies are explaining that."
Lottery Deputy Director David Bradley said the agency receives an occupancy report from The Greenbrier every morning.
No Greenbrier executives attended Tuesday's meeting to discuss the issue.
The Lottery Commission decided to keep reviewing regulations defining what a legitimate event is.
They plan to meet with Greenbrier officials prior to the commission's November meeting and after that meeting they may consider revisions to the event policy for the resort.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.