COLUMBUS — The building is up. Many of the employees are already inside. The owner has invested $320 million in the structure, slot machines and table games inside, and a $50 million one-time licensing fee to the state.
So it should come as little surprise that the Ohio Casino Control Commission voted unanimously today to give Penn National Gaming, Inc. just the second casino gambling license ever issued in the state.
Licenses were approved both for Penn and its subsidiary, Toledo Gaming Ventures, LLC, which will operate Hollywood Casino Toledo.
Penn is gearing up for a May 29 grand opening on a former industrial site along the Maumee River in East Toledo and adjacent to Rossford.
Although the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2009 authorized casino gambling in the state and on this specific 44-acre parcel in Toledo, it did not guarantee the parcel’s owners casino licenses.
Today’s decision, however, was largely considered a formality. Despite some criticism of the honesty of an investment firm that holds a small piece of Penn, a consultant hired by the commission to investigate the company recommended last week that the license be issued.
Penn began with a single racetrack in eastern Pennsylvania and has since become a major player in casino gambling with its Hollywood Casino brand across the country.
It acquired Argosy Gaming which gave it a major foothold in the Midwest. That gave it Toledo’s Raceway Park, giving Penn a seat at the table as a variety of attempts to legalize racetrack slots and full-scale, 24-hour Las Vegas-style casinos came and went in Ohio until voters finally approved four casinos on specific sites in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
Penn’s presence has continued to grow with the pending Hollywood Casino Toledo, the planned opening of its Columbus casino this fall, and this week’s announcement that it has purchased an existing casino on the Missouri River in St. Louis.
If the courts uphold Ohio’s plans to legalize racetrack slots parlors as an extension of the Ohio Lottery without a vote for the people, Penn plans to move Raceway Park to Dayton to get its likely slots operation out of the shadow of its new Toledo casino.
The casino commission gave the state’s first license last week to Rock Ohio Caesar’s $350 million Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland that plans to open on Monday. Penn’s 290,000 square-foot Hollywood Casino Toledo will have just over 2,000 slot machines and 80 table games.
It claims to be have created 2,291 temporary construction jobs and 1,329 permanent jobs paying an average of $40,000 a year including wages, tips, and benefits.
The latest Quinnipiac Poll released today showed that 62 percent of Ohio’s registered voters believe that the state’s uncharted foray into casino gambling will be good for the state.
“Democrats say 69 to 24 percent, Republicans say 54 to 40 percent, and independent voters say 63 to 26 percent that casinos are an odds-on bet to help the state,’’ said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
But while they expect the state to benefit economically, a similar 62 percent said they don’t expect to play themselves. According to the poll, 37 percent of women and 39 percent of men say they are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to visit one of the four casinos.