Making the News

Patriot-News, Harrisburg

Originally Published:Sunday, February 3, 2008

Penn National "wanted to take their time and do it right," Joseph Weinert of Spectrum Gaming said. That was a "smart decision," he said. "You want to make a positive first impression on your patrons."
The decision probably was influenced by the casino's location in south-central Pennsylvania, Weinert said.
"They're in a market without direct competition, and they could afford to wait," he explained. "Had they been in the suburban Philadelphia market, it would be a different story."

Playing for the long term
Patience could bring big payoff for casino

By Tom Dochat
Patriot-News, Harrisburg

Unlike all the other long-established racetracks in Pennsylvania, the operator of Penn National Race Course near Grantville decided to wait for slot-machine gambling.
The wait was worth it, say those associated with the Hollywood Casino to open soon at the racetrack in East Hanover Twp.
"We really think people will be blown away with the facility," said Eric Schippers, a spokesman for Penn National Gaming Inc., the public company that owns the Dauphin County casino. "It is spectacular."
He expects the facility to be the "centerpiece" of the Penn National Gaming portfolio, which includes 19 facilities in 15 jurisdictions.
The glimmering, five-story, 365,000-square-foot casino and racetrack grandstand is scheduled to open to the public this month, 31/2 years after state legislators approved a bill that allows slot-machine gambling.
The Grantville-area track is starting its gambling activities more than a year later than some other longtime state racetracks, which got a head start with temporary casinos. Those decisions enabled them to start reeling in visitors and their dollars.
Penn National decided to wait and unveil a finished casino -- all the restaurants, slot machines and amenities that fit into a Hollywood theme.
Penn National "wanted to take their time and do it right," Joseph Weinert of Spectrum Gaming said. That was a "smart decision," he said. "You want to make a positive first impression on your patrons."
The decision probably was influenced by the casino's location in south-central Pennsylvania, Weinert said.
"They're in a market without direct competition, and they could afford to wait," he explained. "Had they been in the suburban Philadelphia market, it would be a different story."
Schippers said the company didn't have adequate space to open a temporary casino, so it made sense to "put all of our attention on a permanent facility."
He also said the company was committed to honoring the legacy of Fitz Dixon, the former chairman of the state racing commission, who often said that slot machines were coming to Pennsylvania "on the back of a horse."
"We wanted to make sure racing is emphasized as part of the design," Schippers said.
The new complex does just that, Schippers said. He said the facility is fully integrated and will expose slots players to the "excitement" of racing, and vice versa.
Charles Gerow of Quantum Communications supported the state slot-machine legislation after Gov. Ed Rendell was elected in 2002. He said Penn National always "plays for the long term."
He added that the company "promised a high-quality facility" when it was urging passage of the slots legislation.
"It's certainly a crown jewel because it's close to home," Gerow said. "This represents a lot to Peter Carlino. He worked hard to get slots in Pennsylvania."
Carlino, the chairman and CEO of Penn National Gaming, was president of the racetrack for a number of years before becoming CEO of the company when it was created and went public in 1994.
"This is an issue that's near and dear to Peter's heart," said Schippers, who is Carlino's son-in-law.
The casino will open with about 2,000 slot machines and expanded racing. Races will be held at least four nights a week for most of the year.
Schippers said the master plan calls for a hotel and retail businesses on the property, as well as an additional 1,000 slot machines, depending on market acceptance. The plan also includes an entertainment center, an additional parking deck and more gambling space to handle a full capacity of 5,000 slot machines.
The company expects to draw visitors from a 90-mile radius and anticipates more than 2 million visits in the first year. About 1.4 million people live within that 90-mile radius.
Schippers doesn't believe the company lost many customers to its competitors that opened earlier.
"We think our market is unique," he said.
TOM DOCHAT: 255-8216 or [email protected] 
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