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Startups keep coming in gaming

Courtesy Grand Falls Casino Resort

An array of new casinos opening across the country will offer groups new choices for gaming trips in 2012. Many of the new facilities will be located in states and destinations not traditionally associated with gaming, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York City.

Work is under way in Valley Forge, Pa., to convert a convention center complex into Valley Forge Casino Resort. Although the Pennsylvania Legislature legalized gaming in 2004, the Valley Forge venture marks the first resort-style casino in the state.

Under the legal definition, resort casinos may have only 600 slot machines and 50 table games, and must offer other amenities and attractions to visitors.

“Resort implies that there needs to be some resort amenities on the property: a spa, food and dining opportunities, or a pool,” said Paul Decker, president of the Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It happens that the owners of the Valley Forge Convention Center and the two hotels attached to it had most of those amenities. So they put up the money, applied for the license and were awarded one.”

The casino, which is expected to open in the second quarter of 2012, will have the full legal number of games and will take up about 50,000 square feet of the original 100,000 square feet of meeting space. Plans also call for an entertainment venue that will attract national touring performers.

According to state regulations, visitors must stay in the hotel, dine in one of the on-site restaurants or otherwise take advantage of the resort amenities to enter the casino.

“The ownership is really trying to make this a different gaming experience,” Decker said. “They’re trying to make it more upscale and intimate. The casino resort classification almost lends itself to that automatically.”

Boutique casinos
In Atlantic City, N.J., a similar idea is beginning to take shape. Legislation passed in January created a pilot program that allows “boutique casinos” in properties significantly smaller than traditional Atlantic City gaming destinations.

“We’ve always had the requirement that you had to build a 500-room hotel in order to get a casino license,” said Linda Kassekert, chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. “This allows for 200-room hotels.

“It’s required that they build along the boardwalk, because we want to bring people back to the boardwalk. There’s a provision that they have to have special amenities and that they offer a full complement of services.”

The requirements mandate that boutique casinos have at least one high-end restaurant and at least one entertainment venue. The gaming floor can compose only 24,000 square feet of the total facility.

If the pilot program goes well, a second type of license provided for in the legislation would allow boutique casinos to increase to 500 rooms and up to 34,000 square feet of gaming space.

A developer proposing to build a Hard Rock Casino filed an application for a boutique casino license; the application is currently under review by the Casino Control Commission. If the license is approved, construction should begin in 2012.

Ohio comes online

In late 2009, Ohio voters passed an amendment to their constitution that permitted the establishment of four casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo. Construction has been under way since 2010, and the first of the facilities should open next year.

In Cleveland, Horseshoe Casino will debut in a historic downtown building in the spring.

“Currently, we’re slated to open in March of 2012,” said Jennifer Kuczycki, communications director for Rock Gaming, the company developing the casino. “This initial phase is opening inside the historic Higbee building that is currently under renovation. There will be an adjacent parking structure across the street.”

The company is spending more than $350 million to transform four floors of the building into 96,000 square feet of gaming space. Plans call for 2,100 slot machines, 63 table games and a 30-table World Series of Poker room.

A buffet restaurant, a food court and a feature bar will round out food and beverage offerings.
In Columbus, Hollywood Casino is set to open during the second half of next year. Plans call for a 130,000-square-foot gaming floor with up to 3,000 slot machines and 70 table games. A high-end steakhouse and an international buffet will accompany the gaming facilities.

New casino for New York
Since 1894, Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens has been a New York fixture. This fall, the track’s operator opened Times Square Casino at the site. Although there are nine racinos in the state, Times Square Casino is the first gaming facility of its kind in New York City.

The first floor of the racino opened in October, and planners expect the final two floors to open by late December. According to New York law, the racino must operate video lottery terminals (as opposed to traditional slot machines).

The 190,000-square-foot gaming area on the first floor includes 2,280 video lottery terminals, as well as 219 electronic table games (state law prohibits live table gaming).

Other traditional gaming destinations around the country continue to debut new casinos as well. In June, the $120 million Grand Falls Casino Resort opened near Larchwood, Iowa. In addition to gaming, the resort features a 1,200-seat events center, a 100-room hotel, a spa and a Rees-Jones-designed golf course.

In Vicksburg, Miss., June brought the opening of the Grand Station Hotel and Casino. Three casino floors have 36,000 square feet of gaming space. The resort also has 117 hotel rooms and three restaurants.

The Coeur d’Alene Resort in Worley, Idaho, completed an $85 million expansion this spring, adding two new four-story buildings and 100 more hotel rooms, bringing the total to 300 rooms.

The expansion also includes a full-service spa, a pub, a gourmet steakhouse and an outdoor amphitheater with a fire circle.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.