Bear River Casino Resort
Bear River Casino Resort provides guests with luxury and the atmosphere of Las Vegas.
By Alan Dorich
Bear River Casino Resort sets itself apart with the experience it provides guests, General Manager John McGinnis says. “We make every single guest that comes through that door feel like family,” he says.
This approach has earned Bear River a strong base of loyal customers that even includes celebrities such as Will and Jaden Smith, Dave Chappelle and M. Night Shyamalan. “They’ve all given us two thumbs up with the service,” McGinnis says. “They’ve told friends, ‘They take good care of you.’”
Located in Loleta, Calif., the 45,000-square-foot casino/resort features 400 gaming machines, 14 table games, three restaurants, two bars and 104 rooms for guests. The Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria operates the facility, which originally opened in 2005.
McGinnis, a member of the tribe, adds that Bear River recently completed a $4.5 million remodel that rebranded it as a resort. “We added on a big recreation venue that hosts the largest fight venue in northern California,” he says, adding that it also hosted concerts for bands such as 38 Special and Love and Theft, with Blue Oyster Cult set to rock in November.
The changes enhanced the experience for guests that visit Bear River, which is located in a rural area in Humboldt County. “They visually transport people to where they feel like they’re in Vegas,” McGinnis says.
Bear River serves a customer base that largely consists of empty nesters, McGinnis says. “[They] are looking to get out, have a little fun with the community and fraternize,” he says.
Ninety-nine percent of the casino/resort’s business consists of local business. “The summertime is when we get super busy with all their vacations,” he says, noting that its business has been impacted by industry trends.
“A lot of people want to play more online,” he admits, but notes that the atmosphere of Bear River keeps people returning. “When you’re getting a jackpot with people around you, there’s nothing like it.”
A Good Engine
Finding new staff members for Bear River can be challenging, but the casino/resort’s recruiting team is up to the task. “They actually hit the ground and visit the two colleges we have in the local area,” McGinnis says.
The company then provides them with extensive training. “We’ve trained people who have gone on to be successful managers in other big properties,” he says. “We invested thousands of dollars in training these individuals to be the best that they can be.”
Bear River also rewards its employees with benefits such as 401(k) programs and staff appreciation parties, which has nurtured loyalty. “When we initially started, we hired 209 employees, and now 189 [remain] 12 years later,” he says. “That’s some retention for you.”
McGinnis is proud of their work. “They are the engine to this enterprise to make it successful,” he declares, noting that they fill the role of entertainers to its guests. “They come in with smiles on their faces daily.”
McGinnis sees a strong future for Bear River. “We’ll continue to take care of our friends and family,” he says, adding that the casino/resort needs to renew the compact it has with several other tribes and California Governor Jerry Brown. “We’re making plans to get to it next year.”
He sees more success thanks to Bear River’s recent partnership with VizExplorer, which developed a platform that will help the casino/resort evaluate its customers’ likes and dislikes. “That is one of the things that we invested in and put on the floor to set us apart from our competitors,” McGinnis says.
Additionally, “Bear River has a lot of people to thank for a lot of our successes and Emergency Room Creative out of Las Vegas is one of our key team mates in getting our brand to market,” he adds.