|By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette,
W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 07, 2011--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 1,000 judges and lawyers will descend on The Greenbrier for a judicial conference in June -- but they won't be gambling in the resort's new $80 million underground casino.
The Greenbrier will close the casino during the three-day conference at the request of the event's sponsor, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. It will be the only time the Casino Club has shut its doors -- other than Christmas Day -- since opening last July.
"It's an awkward thing," said Jim Justice, The Greenbrier's owner. "You're going to have guests here that won't be able to go to the casino. But it's an agreement we have with them, so that's what we're going to do, and we're delighted to have them."
Federal law doesn't restrict the Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals court from having a conference at a facility with a casino. But the group didn't want people to view its decision to hold the event at The Greenbrier as an endorsement of gambling, an executive with the 4th Circuit said Wednesday.
"The judicial conference of the 4th Circuit is a meeting mandated by statute and supported by public funds, and we do not want our use of The Greenbrier to be viewed as a tacit endorsement of gambling activities," said Caron Paniccia, assistant executive of administration for the appeals court.
The 4th Circuit has notified conference participants that The Greenbrier's casino will be closed during the event, Paniccia said.
The federal appeals court has held conferences at The Greenbrier in past years -- before the resort got its gambling license. The 4th Circuit puts on the event every two years, and usually rotates the conference between The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs and The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va.
"They're a great group," Justice said Wednesday. "They pretty much fill up the entire hotel. They've been coming here for years, and we don't want to lose that tradition."
Justice acknowledged that closing the casino for three days -- especially with the 710-room hotel packed with guests -- would hurt the resort's bottom line.
"It will be a hit," he said. "That's all there is to it. But if you have guests that fill up the hotel, you appreciate that too."
Justice said the resort has tentative plans to open the hotel's smaller gambling venue -- called the Tavern Casino -- during the June 23-25 judicial conference for guests not affiliated with the 4th Circuit. The Greenbrier typically opens the Tavern Casino for wedding parties and other private group functions.
The 3,700-square-foot lounge will be off limits to the federal judges, law clerks and lawyers who attend the judicial conference. It was unclear Wednesday how The Greenbrier and 4th Circuit plan to enforce that rule.
The Tavern Casino has 44 slot machines and 10 gaming tables. By contrast, the 120,000-square-foot underground Casino Club has 320 video lottery machines and 37 table games. The Greenbrier's new In-Fusion restaurant and Twelve Oaks Lounge also will be closed during the 4th Circuit conference because they're inside the underground casino.
The 4th Circuit judicial conference brings together hundreds of federal judges and lawyers from West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The court's chief justice convenes the conference "for the purpose of considering the business of the courts and advising means of improving the administration of justice within the circuit," according to federal law.
The conference features nationally known speakers and legal seminars.
Paniccia said the 4th Circuit uses public funds to pay for speakers' honorariums, publications and other business materials, and to rent audiovisual equipment during the conference. No public money pays for social or sports activities during the event, she said.
The 4th Circuit, one of 13 federal appeals courts, has 13 active judges.
Under state law, The Greenbrier's casino patrons are limited to hotel guests and members of The Greenbrier Sporting Club's luxury home development. People registered for events at the resort also are allowed to gamble, provided 400 rooms are occupied at the time. The state Lottery approved The Greenbrier's gambling license in 2009.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.
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