Pearl River makes $70M renovations

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By Scott Long

Pearl River Resort wants players to know there’s somewhere else in Mississippi to play poker besides Biloxi and Tunica. And it’s spending $70 million to prove it.

The resort in the middle of the state near Jackson has finished the first phase of what is an ambitious $70 million renovation project, which includes 70,000 square feet of revitalized gaming space and amenities in the Golden Moon Casino, new high-tech slot machines and renovated guest rooms at Golden Moon and Silver Star Casino across the street.

Poker was given a plum spot in the work, which was designed by Marnell Companies of Las Vegas. A new, roomy 14-table poker room is on an elevated platform, overlooking the action at Golden Moon. It’s right inside the front doors and features phone chargers in the tables, Wi-Fi and the Bravo system.

“The purpose of the comprehensive renovations was to create a game-changing experience,” said Neal Atkinson, table games administrator for Pearl River Resort. “This without question included our poker players. Marnell utilized design features to create a stylish, contemporary environment that included decorative fixtures, dramatic architectural ceilings, warm lighting and beautifully designed carpet. I noticed that competitors’ poker rooms had tables close together and are hard to get around. I was allowed to space out the room and choose chairs and tables that complemented the concept. Comfort of the player was paramount in all the choices.”

With the new poker room open, Atkinson has made changes to his offerings, including adding more tournaments and increasing the starting stacks. He also started an Ante Up Poker League that runs until May 23 and awards an Ante Up Poker Cruise package to the champion. League play takes place in all noon Saturday tournaments through May 16. Players who pay the $10 weekly league fee will be eligible for points. The player with the most points at the end of the league will win a cruise package for two for the Nov. 7 sailing out of Tampa, Fla., plus two $500 gift cards for airfare, a personalized Ante Up champion’s jacket and their picture in Ante Up.

Players earn points for entering a league tournament and for finishing in the top five. All players will be eligible to qualify for a league-only freeroll on May 23, with the prize pool made up of all league fees collected.

“The transformation this poker room has made in just two years has been an amazing journey for my staff and players. We could not have done it without them,” Atkinson said. “You have to come see it. It will not disappoint.”

Meet Neal Atkinson, Pearl River Resort

Neal Atkinson started as a pit clerk in an Indiana riverboat casino before working his way up the ranks as a dealer and poker supervisor at casinos in Mississippi. Today, he’s table games administrator for Pearl River Resort, which includes overseeing poker.

Poker rooms are often the red-headed stepchildren of casinos, so it’s not every day that a poker room director is promoted to run all table games in a casino this large. Do you think your appointment shows how serious Pearl River is about poker? Five poker rooms have closed over the last two years in Mississippi casinos, which makes me even more grateful to have leaders who understand the positive impacts of poker in the casino. When my boss, Sonny Johnson, promoted me, it didn’t sink in until later that I would be helping to run all table games in two casinos, which together make up the largest casino operation in Mississippi. I hope it’s reassuring to our players, dealers and staff that they have someone in my position who knows the real value of the poker player and I hope they appreciate being able to play in the expanded, first-class poker room.

How much crossover do you see between poker and table games, and why is that important for a casino? We see significant crossover as a substantial amount of our poker players also play table games and slots. We utilize analytical data to help justify the comps, poker hotel rates, advertising and promotions we extend to our players.

Five years from now, where do you see the Pearl River Poker Room in the minds of players in Mississippi and beyond? And what steps are you taking to get it to that place? I see Pearl River poker as a major player and the place to play. We have definitely raised the bar with the new Golden Moon Casino.

I have players that are now driving past Tunica and other casinos to come here to play. There is a reason for that. We are in the process of reformatting the successful bi-monthly $25K guaranteed tournament into a monthly event.

We’ve already doubled the starting chip stack to 20K and kept the same great player-friendly structure.