Ohio's 3rd, largest casino opens to Columbus crowd

KANTELE FRANKO, Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The $400 million Hollywood Casino Columbus opened Monday in Ohio's capital, welcoming hundreds of people who had waited on a chilly morning to be among the first placing bets at the table games and about 3,000 slot machines.

It's the third and largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos. It also is the one that will have the most direct competition initially, as it sits about 10 miles from Scioto Downs, the first Ohio horse racing track to get slots-like gambling machines.

Guests who lined up outside cheered and clapped as they stepped into the 475,000-square-foot facility after an invitation-only opening ceremony that included Mayor Michael Coleman, Ohio State football great Archie Griffin, champion boxer James "Buster" Douglas and actress Ann-Margret. Some people made a beeline to the blackjack tables, while others stopped to pose with casino employees dressed as showgirls in skimpy, sparkling outfits and feathered headdresses.

Jerry Franklin, a self-employed Columbus resident, grabbed a seat at a slot machine. He confessed he isn't typically a big gambler but said he'd taken the day off from his blacktop business to celebrate turning 56.

"Hopefully I'll have some luck," he said with a smile. "It being my birthday, I figured I'd give it a shot."

In a different row, Sandra Dowler yelped gleefully when three 7's aligned on her slot machine, earning her back some cash. The 70-year-old Dayton retiree said she has visited Las Vegas previously and felt Penn National Gaming Inc. had done a good job bringing the feel of that city to central Ohio.

The casino, built on the site of a former auto parts plant, is full of Art Deco architectural accents, modern light fixtures and scores of televisions. It includes four restaurants and event spaces and is expected to draw 3 visitors a year, providing some competition for Scioto Downs.

"This is bigger. This is better," said Stephanie Severance, 28. The stay-at-home mother from Grove City acknowledged the reason she might be biased: Her husband got one of the 2,000 jobs at the casino, working as a dealer.

Casino General Manager Ameet Patel has said he's not concerned about the competitive environment and the proximity to Scioto Downs because he believes there's a deep market in the Columbus area.

With several more so-called racinos in the works at other Ohio tracks, government and industry officials likely will be watching to see how the Columbus casino and track operations compare, said Jake Miklojcik, a Michigan consultant who works on casinos and other topics.

Before the casinos were approved by voters, the state estimated in 2009 that the four would have total gross revenue of more than $1.4 billion annually if the seven "racinos" became operational.

State officials don't feel they'll have a solid basis to make updated revenue projections until all four casinos have been open for a full year _ which would be spring of 2014, if the Cincinnati casino opens as planned early next year, said Tama Davis, communications director for the state Casino Control Commission.

By law, casinos pay a gross revenue tax of 33 percent, and that money is split between entities including counties, school districts, the four casino cities, the casino commission and programs for problem gamblers.

The Cleveland and Toledo casinos that debuted earlier this year had more than $148.7 million in revenue through August, not counting winnings paid to patrons. The revenue totals for September are expected to be released Tuesday.


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