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Published: 11/16/2011

Some of Hollywood Casino's buildings nearly completed

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Hollywood Casino Toledo is roughly a third of the way complete and expects to begin moving into portions of its building later this month, owner Penn National Gaming, Inc., told state regulators Wednesday.

“It’s really beginning to take shape, take form," said Daryl Morrison, the casino’s compliance officer.

The riverfront casino has spent $162 million to date toward the total anticipated $300 million price tag, $102 million of which has translated into construction, Mr. Morrison told the Ohio Casino Control Commission. It plans to move back-office employees into the structure on Nov. 28.

“We’ve already held numerous job fairs to date," he said. “We anticipate holding at least three more in January, and we’re trying to cover a wide area now.’’ Job fairs are expected to be held on Jan. 10 in North Toledo, Jan. 17 in Bowling Green, and Jan. 24 in West Toledo, and a vendor fair is tentatively set for December.

The casino still anticipates opening its doors at the beginning of April, although the regulatory atmosphere in which it will operate hasn’t been fully developed. The commission continued to work Wednesday on licensing, vending, slot machine testing, and other issues with Ohio’s first casino, probably Rock Ohio Caesar’s Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland, expected to open the first phase of its facility in just four months.

Voters wrote four casinos on specific parcels into the Ohio Constitution in 2009 — Penn’s operations in Toledo and Columbus and Rock’s sites in Cleveland and Cincinnati. The location of the Columbus site has since been moved to the western edge of the city, again with voters’ approval.

The constitutional language requires each casino to pay a $50 million application fee to the state, but the casino commission Wednesday proposed an additional $1.5 million license renewal fee that would be charged every three years for a total of $6 million.

The fee is designed not only to cover the costs of renewal investigations but also some of the commission’s costs in watching the casinos during those three years.

“We’ve tried to come up with a happy medium, not $50 million, but some reasonable amount that helps cover three years of expenses…," said commission Chairman Jo Ann Davidson.

The commission is slated to receive 3 percentage points of the 33 percent tax applied to the casino gross receipts, a revenue stream that had originally been expected to generate about $18 million a year for the commission once all casinos were fully operational.

But now slot machines at horse-racing tracks, still in the process of being implemented by the Ohio Lottery Commission, are expected to draw some gamblers away from the Las Vegas-style casinos. The commission now expects its revenue stream to be reduced to $12 million to $13 million a year.

“There’s only so much discretionary monies that can be spent on gaming," said Rick Anthony, the commission’s operations officer. “When (video lottery terminals) open at tracks — there are tracks in those metropolitan areas — that brings it down substantially."

Hollywood Casino Toledo is less likely to be impacted by this because it plans to move nearby Raceway Park, which it also owns, to the Youngstown area. It is also expected to ask the Ohio State Racing Commission to approve the transfer of its Beulah Park in Grove City to Lebanon to get it out of the way of its new Columbus casino.

“Penn still intends to move forward with its proposal to move its two tracks," said Penn spokesman Bob Tenenbaum. “The racing commission adopted emergency rules a month ago, but that’s still an ongoing process because, among other things, we don’t know what the fee is going to be. We have not submitted an application."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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