March 17, 2012
TOLEDO — Developers of Ohio’s newest casino think they’ll do just fine competing for gamblers with Detroit’s three casinos, even without the spas, hotels and big-name concerts found just up the road.
Whether they’re successful might come down to the little things like a prohibition on smoking on the casino floor, or the free garage parking.
The Hollywood Casino in Toledo made its debut Tuesday, drawing many people who for years have frequented the casinos just an hour drive to the north in Detroit. “I’m done going there,” said Jaycee Riley, of West Unity.
“I can’t believe how nice it is. It’s better than some of the casinos in Vegas. I doubt I’ll be going there anymore too,” she said while waiting with most of the casino’s first customers in a long line to join its rewards program.
The $320 million casino designed to look like a grand Art Deco movie house has a single floor devoted to slot machines, table games and restaurants. It sits right along Interstate 75 just south of downtown Toledo. Casino operators think the ease of getting in and out along with the free parking will be a major draw.
The lack of a hotel shouldn’t hurt business because most customers will be traveling less than a half-hour, said Peter Carlino, chairman and chief executive of Penn National Gaming Inc. “This is a big-time facility by any measure,” he said.
Penn National, based in Wyomissing, Pa., has 27 casinos nationwide. It’s also constructing a casino in Columbus that is expected to open in the fall.
Ohio’s first casino opened just two weeks ago to big crowds in downtown Cleveland. Another casino is being built in Cincinnati.
All four casinos will draw away Ohio gamblers who’ve been spending an estimated $1 billion each year to wager in neighboring states. Gaming analysts think Detroit’s casinos could lose up to 5 percent of their revenues.
On Tuesday, executives from Penn National, local politicians and even Toledo native Jamie Farr, who played cross-dressing Cpl. Max Klinger on the TV series “M.A.S.H.,” officially opened the casino as dealers, hostesses and a pair of showgirls cheered.
The casino then opened to the public about two hours earlier than expected. Most people headed to the slot machines, leaving the poker and blackjack tables empty, at least in the first few moments. By mid-afternoon, the casino’s parking garage was full and visitors were being directed to overflow lots.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the casino in Toledo and the ones in Detroit is smoking. It’s banned in Ohio’s gambling halls, but not in Detroit.
Jake Miklojcik, a gaming industry analyst in Michigan, thinks the smoking issue will play to Detroit’s advantage and might lessen the amount of business it stands to lose to Ohio.
Carlino, who was on hand for the opening in Toledo, said the absence of smoking will have an impact, but there is little the company can do about that.
Among those who were first inside the casino on Tuesday, the lack of smoke seemed to be welcome.
“I love it,” said Terra Teague, of Detroit. “I can’t stand that cigarette smoke.”
Audrey Johnson, also of Detroit, said she didn’t know about the smoking ban before walking into the casino.
“I’ll probably come here a lot more often knowing that,” she said.
Still, whether she skips the casinos in her hometown for the new one in Ohio will come down to what every gambler care about most.
“It depends on how the winnings are,” she said.