CHESTER - A state matching grant designed to help Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort boost its customer numbers may also be good news for Hancock County's tourism industry, officials said.
Mountaineer was among three West Virginia casinos to receive grants from the West Virginia Tourism Commission last week. The Mountaineer grant of $184,423 requires a match of the same amount from the casino.
The money will be used to promote Mountaineer's recently-announced "IN Club" player loyalty program, which gives patrons the opportunity to earn points toward rewards every time they play slot machines, video lottery terminals, table games and poker or bet on horse racing, according to state and casino sources.
"They are using it specifically for their 'IN Club' advertising campaign, with a focus on direct mail, print and radio, as well as targeted television and outdoor advertising," said Jacqueline Proctor, deputy commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Tourism.
"They're doing this to attract new audiences and drive return trips by current customers - keeping the customers they have and engaging them to return to their facilities," she said.
Proctor said such growth will "ultimately impact the economic growth of the tourism industry (in Hancock County)."
Last year, a similar campaign by Mountaineer generated more than 30,000 new customers to sign up at the player's club within eight months of the campaign, Proctor said.
"They have described in their grant application ... who their partners are to really make it a solid, all-encompassing marketing effort," she said.
Mountaineer Director of Marketing Lesley Campbell did not return phone calls seeking comment.
But, according to the Mountaineer Web site, the new player's club "IN Club" was introduced in May at all three MTR Gaming Group properties - Mountaineer, Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, Pa., and Scioto Downs Casino & Racetrack in Columbus.
The new program offers players more comprehensive benefits "aimed at garnering greater customer loyalty," according to the Web site.
The new player's club and state-funded promotional campaign come at a time of increasing competition for Mountaineer from gaming sites in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Earlier this month, Hollywood Casino Columbus opened in Columbus, Ohio. Earlier this year, casinos also opened in Cleveland and Toledo.
The state grant also comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of Mountaineer by Hancock County commissioners, who claim the county's coffers are suffering from the casino's practice of not collecting the 6 percent hotel occupancy tax on complimentary rooms. Sheriff Mike White filed suit against Mountaineer in September, asking for $600,000 in lost revenue dating back to March 2009.
The tourism grant is part of the Matching Advertising Partnership Program, whose purpose is to "promote West Virginia as a premier tourist destination, increasing the number of visitors and travel expenditures to West Virginia," according to a Division of Tourism news release.