RSS Feed for this Blog

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Slots and Table Games Winners and Wannabees

- The Meadows opened their racino on Monday with the usual opening rush. More than 10,000 people visited the temporary racino over the course of the day, wagering over $8.6 million. The numbers compare favorably to opening day numbers at the four other [Pennsylvania] racetrack casinos that have opened since November.

More than 500 were in line, buoyant but impatient, at the time of the public debut [8:45 in the morning]. They booed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony when a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board member was introduced to make brief remarks. It meant tolerating another 45 seconds before they could get on the Wheel of Fortune, Monte Carlo or other popular slots. [Pittsburgh Post Gazette]
There are only 1,738 machines there presently; that number is expected to increase to 3,000 once the permanent facility is completed. It's this racino, located in western Pennsylvania not far from the West Virginia border, that has been causing so much angst in the latter state, particularly at the nearby Wheeling Island greyhound track, which, according to its president Robert Marshall, draws 60% of its patrons from Pennsylvania. Thus the push for table games in West Virginia, where voters in Ohio County, the home of Wheeling Island, approved the new games on Saturday. And they're wasting no time getting them up and running.
Workers at the track began construction Monday morning on a poker room scheduled to open by Labor Day weekend, spokeswoman Kim Florence said.

Wheeling Island, owned by Delaware North Cos. of Buffalo, N.Y., hopes to have other table games, like roulette and blackjack, up and running by Oct. 1.

“A big part of that is obviously going to be making sure we have the dealers to run the games,” Florence said.

To that end, track officials announced job fairs to be held on Wednesday and Saturday. Wheeling Island looks to hire more than 300 dealers and more than 150 other positions like security, accounting and food service. []
But in Jefferson County, voters rejected table games at Charles Town.
Frustrated by Saturday's defeat of a plan to add so-called "table games" at Charles Town Races and Slots, a senior vice president of the firm that owns the track said citizens will see their mistake when Maryland adds its own slot machines.

Then it will be a situation of "I told you so," said John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the local thoroughbred track. []
Of course, slots at Maryland are probably a ways off despite a new push following the announcement that purses will be reduced and the stakes schedule will be slashed for the remainder of the year.
The three changes that will be enacted for the final 78 days of live racing in Maryland this year will be a $2,000 reduction in purses, a reduced number of races in the fall and a stakes schedule that will be reduced by approximately $1 million. Details on which races will be eliminated are yet to be determined. The stakes reduction announcement will come after the Maryland Racing Commission meeting on July 17. []
In response, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said that slots are necessary to save the industry in the state, and ordered a delegation to visit surrounding states that have slots to check out the competition.
O'Malley said he is in discussions with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch in hopes of crafting a slots compromise as part of the effort to close a projected $1.5 billion budget shortfall. [Baltimore Sun]
Busch has almost single-handedly held up slots in the state; and though he conceded that the state is at "a competitive disadvantage because purses in other states are supplemented by gaming revenues," he stated that he thinks a $50 million annual subsidy would do the trick. Continuing from the Sun article:
The political calculus for slots is likely to be difficult. Some Senate Republicans who voted for slots when Ehrlich was governor have said they would be reluctant to do so now that O'Malley, a Democrat, would be deciding how the proceeds would be spent. Also, large blocs of opposition remain in the House.

"Just like any other business, I am also wondering what responsibility racetrack owners are taking," Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat, wrote in an e-mail. "I don't sense a very high level of effort on their part to do what most responsible and smart business people do - take some personal responsibility to aim high, think creatively, know your audience, and modernize your marketing approaches instead of looking for very questionable, uncreative approaches like slot machines."
The delegate from Montgomery County may make some reasonable points here. But right now, Maryland needs to at least have the playing field leveled; they'll be plenty of need and opportunity for creativity once the inevitable saturation of gambling in the northeast has racetrack owners scrambling for cover again. Meanwhile, friends and foes of slots alike in the various states continue their game of reacting to each other. One slots opponents in Maryland, Comptroller Peter Franchot, even cited the rejection of table games in Jefferson County as a lesson to Marylanders that "slots are the wrong direction," and in one of the more idiotic statements I've read of late, continued: "Most people who have cancer would just as soon not have more cancer." As long as slots advocates in Maryland have to deal with nonsensical attitudes like that, it will be a long road to saving the industry there.


Anonymous said...

Did you see they're talking about legalizing sports betting in Delaware?

This bill won't pass, but it's a start. Maybe two or three years down the road they'll have something. I have no interest in slots or table games, but I could get into this. It's a good idea. I think most people would rather deal with a casino than a bookie, if given a choice. Online betting would be nice, but the a-hole Frist took care of that (for now) when he tacked his unpassable ban onto that port security bill. (Yeah, Republicans really do want to keep the government out of your life. Just don't judge them by their actions.)

Alan Mann said...

Bob - Thanks much for sending that along. I agree that it is a worthwhile idea, and I plan to delve further into the subject in the near future.