The first time Allie Evangelista saw a slot machine was when she started working at a casino. Before becoming the manager of another casino, she did not know that a deck contained 52 cards.
Growing up in Brazil, Evangelista dreamed of being a travel agent or traveling the world as a flight attendant, but a 16-year career in the gaming industry now has her poised to oversee the Virginia’s first casino – the Bristol Casino, future home of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol – opening later this year in the former Bristol Mall.
It’s been a long and turbulent journey for someone whose first job in this country was as a housekeeper in a hotel.
“I wanted to visit the world, I wanted to learn about cultures and see what people and cultures were like everywhere else,” Evangelista said of his youthful wanderlust.
Twenty-three years ago, she moved to the United States and settled in Florida.
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“I worked at Walt Disney World while I was in college and met my husband there. When I finished my studies in Brazil, I decided to try my luck. When I I was able to get a job, which takes a bit of time, I started as a cleaner in a hotel,” she said. “My goal was to get to reception and I was able to do that. . I prepare breakfast in the morning for clients. It was on International Drive near Walt Disney World so there was a lot of sightseeing.
During her time in the hospitality industry, she learned all aspects of hotel operations before being offered a job at a riverside casino in Missouri in 2006.
“I started out in slot machines and had never seen a slot machine in my life until we got there,” she said. “It was a big place, very lively, very, very lively. There was a lot of noise and energy in the air. It was a Friday afternoon and there were a lot of people… I remember the energy on the games room, the machines and the music, it was like being in a nightclub; that I was at a party.
This party kicked off 16 years of work at multiple venues with opportunities to learn the ‘bread and butter’ of the industry – slot machines, card games, table games.
“We had dealer schools for managers in the evenings, so I had to go to class and learn craps and blackjack. We had to go to class to certify, but when I got into tabletop games, I didn’t know how many cards there were in a deck,” Evangelista said. “But you have to be humble enough to know that people have been doing this for years. They are there to help and teach you. It was exciting.”
She then spent two years at the Hollywood Casino at The Meadows near Pittsburgh, where she became general manager and had to quickly learn the harness racing industry as the track adjoining the casino operated approximately 300 days a year.
“It was a very intense operation, a very busy racecourse, and I had to learn everything about horse racing. It was great fun and again you rely on people who understand the business, and let them teach you what they know and together you can make the business better.
From there, she became vice president and general manager of the Hollywood Gaming casino and racetrack in Ohio.
“When I got to Ohio, I thought, ‘I’ve got this horse racing thing. Then I get there, and it’s a completely different trade – thoroughbred rather than driven,” she said. “I used to go pet the horses if I had a bad day at The Meadows, but in Ohio the horses aren’t even that friendly. The business is so different that it was another learning curve for me. But I love the unknown.
Evangelista had barely landed his last job – at the Hollywood Casino Perryville in Maryland in 2021 – when a new opportunity presented itself.
“Even though gaming is a very big industry, we all know each other. I had friends I worked with in previous jobs who are now at Hard Rock who tell me how amazing the company is and how much they love their job. So I started to be very careful,” she said. “They (Hard Rock) reached out to see if I was interested in a job. I had just arrived in Maryland so I wasn’t ready to move again, I was well supported by my business, but I was ready to look at it.
She finally traveled to Bristol, met with Hard Rock COO Jon Lucas and Bristol project partners Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy and decided it was “the right time”. to join the company.
“The brand was the main reason. I want this to be the last company I work for, so I wanted to make the right decision,” Evangelista said. “The one thing that stood out to me about Bristol was that in all the years and casinos I worked for or places I worked in, the small American town always welcomed me, benefited casinos and embraced the gambling culture.
“When I came here and understood that they had embraced this project and voted for the project, I knew it would be a good transition. It also gives me the opportunity to do what I do, it which is to give back to the community – not just taxes – but to see what it will look like in two years, in five years, in 10 years. It will change people’s lives,” she said.
Although the full resort is a few years away, the temporary play space is quickly becoming a reality inside the former Belk women’s store at one end of the property.
“It’s a very good thing that we can operate the temporary installation in the same place as the permanent installation. When we open the doors we will have this fun place for people to come in – the Bristol Casino, Future Home of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol – we open the doors and focus on business while construction can focus on the construction of the project, and we are not sitting around waiting,” Evangelista said.
“Also, people who may not have as much experience will have the opportunity to learn about the business as we still operate on a smaller scale before expanding into this large resort that we will become. “, she added.
Evangelista knows this will be Virginia’s first casino, which will attract a lot of attention.
“We want to be a place where people come to have fun. We want people to feel comfortable, to have a good time, to be well surrounded… I have worked in places where the local community is our main host. They are there every night or twice a week. We know each other by name so it becomes a big family between team members and guests.
“And we want to take great care of our team members. We know each other by name. Team members have access to me 24/7. I know everyone who works with me; we really are a family. For me, team members who are happy and want to work are a priority. It’s not just my priority, Hard Rock is known to be an employer of choice,” she said. “Casinos will be great for Virginia. They’ll be perfect for Bristol, but Hard Rock is a great match for this location.
Although she’s only been in town a few days, Evangelista was touched by the hospitality and attitude of the people she met – whether at last week’s hiring event, in eating at a local restaurant or grocery shopping.
“Everyone is so welcoming, so friendly and so kind,” she said. “Which makes this position even more exciting because I know these are the people who will work on my team.”
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