Making the News

Delaware News Journal

Originally Published:Friday, December 12, 2008

Recession takes bite out of Dover Downs
Two of casino-hotel complex's 10 eateries go out of business

By Aaron Nathans
Delaware News Journal

Two restaurants that opened at Dover Downs in late September closed on Tuesday, telling casino owners they were not seeing enough traffic to make money.

The mid-priced restaurants the Public House sports bar and Marabella's, an Italian restaurant were run by the Philadelphia-based Public House Investments. The company declined to comment Thursday.

They were housed in the Colonnade, a recent addition to the casino that includes upscale shopping.

They were not doing good business, and the operator informed Dover Downs President Ed Sutor on Monday that the restaurants would close the next day.

The restaurants opened after the busier summer months, but in time for the economic downturn, Sutor said.

"It was a sad day for us. We were not expecting it," Sutor said. "He wasn't able to do enough to sustain his business. They do not see any light at the end of the tunnel."

That leaves eight restaurants at Dover Downs. Seven are run internally; the eighth, Doc Magrogan's, a seafood restaurant with a location in West Chester, Pa., also opened recently at Dover Downs.

Sutor said Dover Downs is committed to filling the vacancies. Either Dover Downs would operate restaurants there or pick an outside operator from a previous list of runners-up, he said.

"We will not allow that space to go underutilized for any period of time," Sutor said.

Customer functions like holiday parties have been moved to other restaurants at Dover Downs, and the hotel and casino will accept gift certificates for the closed restaurants anywhere on the property, Sutor said.

Employees are being considered for other jobs at Dover Downs, he said.

"We're doing everything we can to mitigate this unfortunate closing," Sutor said.

Brian Harrington, principal of Public House Investments, was not available for comment, a secretary there said.

Joe Weinert, senior vice president of the consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group in the Atlantic City area, said he's seeing a lot of restaurant closings at casinos around the country.

Operators have to choose carefully whether to close restaurants or cut back hours, Weinert said.

"It's a real tightrope between cutting your costs and not disappointing your customers," he said. It's important to have at least some decent mass-market restaurant choices, he said.

"If you don't give them sufficient dining choices, they're going to leave earlier than they otherwise would the first time, and they may not come the second time."

Casino revenue numbers "fairly consistently across the country tend to be abysmal," Weinert said. "This is the first time in the modern casino era in the country the economy has made a severe dent in the industry's fortunes."

Atlantic City reported its revenue was down 7.8 percent in November, and Las Vegas strip casino revenue was down 25 percent in October, he said.


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