COLUMBUS -- It's still not a done deal, but Hollywood Casino Toledo and state regulators are gearing up to open on May 29.
Penn National Gaming Inc. is expected to make its formal pitch in early May before the Ohio Casino Control Commission for a license to operate its $300 million casino on the Toledo riverfront, the second Las Vegas-style casino expected to open in the state.
"We're less than six weeks from our first opening," commission Chairman Jo Ann Davidson said Wednesday, referring to the tentative May 14 opening of Rock Ohio Caesar's $350 million Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland.
Horseshoe will make its formal license pitch before the commission beginning on April 18.
Jeffrey Goodman, Hollywood Casino's vice president of operations, told the commission that 1,975 out of an expected 2,000 slot machines have been installed and are expected to be tested April 16. All of its table games are expected to be installed by April 14.
"We have a tentative grand opening date of May 29, and that is pending OCC approval also," Mr. Goodman said.
Matt Schuler, the commission's executive director, said the setting of a firm date will probably not have to wait for a final licensing decision. A date could potentially be approved as early as the next meeting on April 18.
"Once the commission reviews the results of the probative investigation on the applications, then, I think, is the appropriate time to consider the setting of the date," he said.
Hollywood Casino has also tentatively set aside May 24 and 26 for controlled demonstrations, essentially complete run-throughs of normal operations, including shift changes, with invited guests playing only at the slot machines and gaming tables.
"The purpose of the controlled demonstration is for the casinos to prove to the commission that they can follow through with all their internal control measures…," Mr. Schuler said. It would provide a last-minute opportunity to identify areas where improvements are needed before huge crowds enter on the real opening day, presumably just days later.
The commission would be told in advance who the invited guest players will be. Restaurants and other casino-related businesses would also be operating to simulate what a real gaming day would be like, albeit with a smaller crowd.
The players will be able to walk away with their winnings, but Penn will turn its take over to a charity to be named by the commission. The state, however, will still collect the 33 percent tax on all bets wagered after payouts are deducted that, under terms of the Ohio Constitution, must be distributed among local governments, schools, law enforcement, gambling addiction programs, horse-racing purses, and regulatory costs.
Penn spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said the invited guest list is not expected to be used as a reward for loyal players at the company's other casinos, such as its Hollywood Casino counterpart in Lawrenceburg, Ind.
"The plan's being developed, and it may be more focused on people who are local in Toledo…," he said. "It could go through organizations."
Voters in 2009 approved a constitutional amendment authorizing four Ohio casinos only on specific parcels in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. The amendment did not, however, guarantee the owners of those properties licenses to operate casinos.
Neither Penn, with its numerous casino and racetrack holdings across the country, nor Rock, with its Caesars connection, is expected to have a problem getting a license.
However, should they be denied, they would most likely have to turn the operation over to someone who would qualify.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496.