BRISTOL, Va. — Joanne “J.J.” Liu is accustomed to raking in big prizes at the poker table, but after learning that a Hard Rock Resort and Casino was coming to Bristol, Virginia, she recognized the investment opportunity.
Liu, a longtime professional poker player who operates a successful commercial real estate business, is the new owner of the former Comfort Inn on Lee Highway, just off Interstate 81’s Exit 5. The hotel is just 4 miles from the site of the casino resort planned for the Bristol Mall site.
“I was doing a lot of real estate investment, buying commercial property, and I saw Bristol was going to vote on a Hard Rock casino last November. I saw it as a tremendous opportunity for me to come here and have an investment in the real estate market,” Liu said Monday. “I will start with this. I have a lot of investors interested in this area because of what is going to happen with the Hard Rock casino.”
Many international investors are looking at the Bristol and Tri-Cities market due to the Hard Rock project, she said.
Born in Taiwan, Liu lived in California and Las Vegas before recently moving to Georgia. All she previously knew of Bristol was Bristol Motor Speedway, but that all changed upon her arrival.
“It has a lot to offer like the country music, a lot of beautiful scenery. … It’s a really nice place to be,” Liu said.
She bought the 84-room hotel at auction and renamed it the Bristol Arcadia Inn, in deference to Greek mythology where Arcadia was an unspoiled, harmonious wilderness. The Twin City’s sister city, Bristol, England, also has many connections to Greek mythology.
“I have a lot of developments named after Greek gods, and Bristol is like a paradise in Greek mythology,” she said.
The hotel’s previous owners thoroughly renovated the property in 2019, and she was able to retain the entire staff.
“I love this spot. It has great potential,” she said, noting its proximity to the Hard Rock and Interstate 81. “You have to visualize what is going to happen. The time to do an investment is before because, if you wait until something happens, it’s too late. The potential here is tremendous.”
Local residents may not fully appreciate how impactful the Hard Rock can be, she said.
“The casino will bring a lot of people. It’s entertainment. It will bring a lot of energy,” she said. “It will bring a lot of entertainment to the community.”
An event she hopes will be on the calendar would be a visit from the World Series of Poker or a similar high stakes tournament. Liu said she has won more than $3.4 million in national competitions over the past 20 years and still finds time to play.
“It is very exciting. I think a lot of people love it, especially after TV. Every year gets bigger and bigger,” she said.
Liu is one of 14 world-renowned female poker players profiled in the book “Winning Women of Poker.” She began playing while living in California and soon competed in major tournaments. In 2007, she was the highest-placing female and won $600,000 by finishing second in a field of 450 entrants at the World Poker Tournament event in San Jose.
At the table, especially when the TV cameras are on, Liu typically wears unique sunglasses, a hat and sometimes revealing outfits to “distract” her opponents.
Liu said the key to her success is observation.
“You have to focus and make decisions every single time and try to make your best decision. And you have to observe other people. It’s a very, very interesting game, so that’s why a lot of people love to play,” she said. “It’s more psychology. You have to have to deal with people more than the cards, so you have to be able to read people.”
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