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Greenbrier tour bus casino trips continue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tour bus day trips to The Greenbrier casino are continuing as scheduled, despite efforts by the Lottery Commission to crack down on the practice.

Diane Eagle, tour planner for Abbott Trailways of Roanoke, Va. -- which has 15 casino day trips scheduled for the remainder of the year, and had a trip to The Greenbrier on Wednesday -- said the company was advised by Greenbrier management that the casino trips would continue as scheduled, regardless of actions by the Lottery Commission.

She said Greenbrier management advised that the day trips are considered events under the state law authorizing the casino, since they include a buffet lunch at the hotel.

An Abbott Trailways receptionist, who declined to give her name, said, "We were told since we have a luncheon scheduled, it is an event, and we can still have access to the casino."

She added, "We were told not to advertise them as casino trips, but they will have access to the casino."

Abbott Trailways had been running ads in the Roanoke Times newspaper promoting the casino day trips.

The ad features both The Greenbrier and Greenbrier Casino Club logos, along with a picture of a roulette wheel and the slogan, "We drive, you play."

The advertisement features a disclaimer in small print noting that state Lottery law limits casino access to registered overnight guests, as well as to registered event/convention attendees when more than 400 rooms at the hotel are booked, and states, "This is a motorcoach package, which qualifies as an event."

Likewise, the Travel Lovers travel agency in Lynchburg, Va., has been advertising a Greenbrier casino day trip scheduled for this Saturday, with an ad featuring The Greenbrier logo and a courtesy photo of a horse and carriage in front of the hotel.

The ad states that the $65 per person trip includes motorcoach transportation, a breakfast buffet at the hotel, and $15 of free casino slots play.

Additional copy on the agency's Facebook page advises, "Come with us to the beautiful Greenbrier resort and casino. The fall foliage will be lovely and you can experience the beautiful resort and enjoy the grounds, the casino, and maybe take the optional Bunker tour."

Travel Lovers president Steve Arthur said he contacted Greenbrier management Wednesday morning after reading about the Lottery Commission meeting Tuesday, and was told nothing had changed.

"My understanding after talking with people at The Greenbrier this morning is that this is, in fact, an approved event, and it is still taking place as planned," Arthur said Wednesday.

Asked whether the travel agency had permission to use The Greenbrier logo and images in the ad, Arthur said the resort had provided the ad copy.

"We didn't make this up. It was done under their auspices, and under their control," he said.

That would seem to contradict statements Greenbrier attorney Brian Helmick made to the Lottery Commission on Tuesday, when he said Greenbrier management was not aware that tour companies were promoting Greenbrier day trips as casino trips.

Arthur said Wednesday he planned to remove The Greenbrier ad from the agency's Facebook page, and does not anticipate offering Greenbrier day trips in the future.

"This is probably the last one we're going to do, because of the controversy," he said.

"This was their program," Arthur said of the casino day trip. "I kind of feel like I'm caught in the middle."

As of Wednesday, the Saturday day trip was sold out.

Continuation of the casino day trips also appears to contradict statements made Tuesday by Lottery director John Musgrave. He told the Lottery Commission that Greenbrier management had agreed to stop hosting tour bus day trips to the resort's casino.

Lottery general counsel Kathy Lawson said Wednesday that as long as the day trips are not being promoted strictly as casino outings, Lottery officials would take a hands-off position until the Lottery Commission meets on Nov. 27 to clarify the definition of "event" for purposes of obtaining access to The Greenbrier casino.

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners -- particularly Commissioner David McCormick -- questioned whether a buffet lunch meets the definition of an event, as the Legislature intended when it passed the 2009 law authorizing a casino at The Greenbrier.

On Tuesday, McCormick said it was never the intent of the Lottery Commission to have tour buses pulling up at The Greenbrier so that those onboard could go to the casino.

Likewise, Musgrave commented Tuesday, "What we won't allow is a group of folks coming up in a van, going through the buffet line ... and then saying, 'We're here to go to the casino.' "

As originally drafted, the legislation authorizing the resort's casino restricted casino access to registered overnight guests, and to Greenbrier property owners who are members of the Greenbrier Sporting Club.

It was amended to include people registered to attend conventions/events at the resort when 400 or more hotel rooms are booked -- anticipating that there could be times when people attending large conventions or events at the resort would be unable to reserve a room at the hotel, and would be denied access to the casino granted to their fellow convention-goers.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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