enn National spent us$ 336 million on the Hollywood Casino, which can accommodate 9,000 guests, more than double the capacity of the Argosy Casino it replaced. The Indiana Gaming Commission gave Penn National permission to conduct a “soft opening,” starting at 2 p.m. Thursday.
“Within 15 minutes, there were 800 people through the turnstiles,” said Tony Rodio, Hollywood general manager. “Shock and awe is the best way to describe peoples’ reaction when they see it for the first time. I couldn’t be happier.”
Rodio said the casino used an automated phone system to notify 100,000 customers of the soft opening at 9 a.m. today. News of the early opening “spread like wildfire.” The casino’s grand opening celebration is planned for Monday.
In Columbus meantime, the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee submitted petitions with 850,000 signatures for a constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos at four Ohio locations, including Broadway Commons near downtown Cincinnati. Backers of the plan include Penn National and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and founder of Quicken Loans. The number of signatures is about double the amount required to get the measure on the ballot.
The filing comes as Ohio lawmakers discuss new legislation to enable slot parlors at Ohio horse tracks. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland endorsed the idea as a way of closing a us$ 3.2 billion budget gap. Strickland has estimated that allowing video-lottery terminals at seven Ohio race tracks would generate us$ 933 million in new revenue for the state in 2010 and 2011. But state lawmakers are split on whether new legislation is required for the slots proposal or whether the governor can use his executive authority to allow the Ohio Lottery Commission to roll out slots the way it rolled out Keno games last year.
A spokesman for the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee said the group will recalculate its revenue estimates after details of the slots proposal are finalized. Its current estimates are that the new casinos would generate us$ 651 million in annual casino-tax revenue for the state for the first full year of casino operations (2013). Tax revenue estimates rise to us$ 771 million by the fifth year of operation.
How those numbers would change if seven slots parlors opened in Ohio would depend on a variety of factors. “Nobody’s quite sure what the proposal is,” said Bob Tenenbaum, a senior counselor with the Milenthal Group. “Without knowing the details, there’s just no way to do that analysis.”