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Belterra Casino Resort

New GM Buck takes on challenge
of promoting new hotel tower

By Don Ward
Staff Writer

FLORENCE, Ind. (March 2004) – Larry Buck roams the majestic halls of Belterra Casino Resort like a proud father, greeting customers and surveying the progress of the Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.’s $35 million expansion project.
The newly hired vice president and general manager, at only 43, has a lifetime of experience in casino management, after having started as a change attendant on the floor of the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City while still a college student at nearby Syracuse University. From there, he worked his way up the ranks, first into the accounting department and later into top management. Buck earned an MBA at Drexel University in Philadelphia while attending school part-time and working full-time at the casino.

Larry Buck

Photo by Don Ward

Belterra Casino GM Larry Buck shows off the new 10,000-sq. ft. conference room.

Since those early days, the Cherry Hill, N.J., native has made the rounds through the casino industry, from Louisiana to St. Louis to Reno, Nev., before landing his previous job in 2000 as general manager at Hyatt’s Grand Victoria Casino in Rising Sun, Ind. When Belterra Casino’s Alain Uboldi accepted the top post at Pinnacle’s soon-to-be-completed casino in Lake Charles, La., Buck in January was offered the chance to move 10 miles downriver. He started at Belterra on Feb. 2.
The move was no roll of the dice. Buck stepped into a prime situation, with Belterra now riding on solid financial footing in the wake of Uboldi’s budget-tightening moves in the previous year to stem the financial losses the casino had experienced. And he came at a time when Belterra was about to open its new 300-room hotel addition, complete with conference and meeting rooms and an outdoor swimming pool.
The new addition, to officially open in mid-March with all hotels ready by April 30, will give Belterra 600 rooms, making it one of the largest hotel facilities in the tri-state area. The project also adds 33,000-square feet of meeting and conference space, with one 10,000-square-foot reception hall that can be subdivided into three sections. Groundbreaking took place in February 2003, when officials announced the project would generate 80 new jobs.

Belterra Casino Resort

Photo by Don Ward

Belterra Casino's new addition.

Completion of the project, combined with the floating casino, 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed championship golf course, 1,800-seat entertainment showroom, European-style health spa and salon, and several stores and restaurants in the main hall, will take Belterra yet another step toward becoming a true destination resort.
“It’s a great place,” said Buck, who resides in Hebron, Ky., with his wife, Lorraine, and four children, ages 11 to 11 months. “My biggest challenge will be to increase our market and our market share.”
To do that, he said the casino company will be targeting businesses big and small in a wider geographic range with out new conference space. “Our marketing effort will now extend as far north as Cleveland and as far south as Nashville.”
Buck said the demand for hotel rooms is already there. He cited 2003 statistics that showed Belterra’s occupancy rate averaging 90 percent, while compared to a 54 percent average among Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati hotels.

Belterra Casino workers

Photo by Don Ward

Workers cut carpet in the parking lot of Belterra Casino Resort.

Belterra currently has 1,100 employees and “needs to hire about 50 more today,” Buck said. Other changes are in store. Casino officials also plan to redesign the front entrance by adding a fountain and potted plants “to give people a sense of excitement upon their arrival,” Buck said. The current entrance is primarily plain walls, with no decorations or signs or elaborate amenities.
In addition to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor and several stores along the hallways, Buck said a Starbuck’s Coffee franchise will soon open in the location of the coffee shop at the front entry. And he is working on a plan to bring in a Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse in the location of the current Fireside Steakhouse.
By mid-summer, hotel guests will be able to lounge on the pool deck, which is being constructed on the western side of the complex near the golf pro shop. And when the new highway corridor is completed connecting I-71 to Markland Dam, Buck believes improved access to Louisville and Lexington markets will make a big impact on Belterra’s operation.
“The sooner that happens, the better,” Buck said, “because what breeds business in the casino business is traffic.”
Buck better strap on his seat belt because it looks like Belterra is in for a great ride.

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