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Howard Stutz

Toledo expected to challenge Detroit as draw for gamblers

21 May 2012

TOLEDO, Ohio -- To use baseball terminology, the Triple-A city is looking to take business away from the Major League club.

Penn National Gaming, Inc. will open the $320 million Hollywood Casino Toledo in nine days, and the regional casino operator is targeting the roughly 300,000 residents of the Northwestern Ohio city as its primary customer base.

But Detroit, located 60 miles to the north along Interstate 75, is also in play. So is northeast Indiana. None of that state's 13 casinos are in its northeast corner, near Toledo.

"We'll reach into Southern Michigan and we'll compete with the Detroit casinos for business," Penn National Gaming President Tim Wilmott said. "I think we'll be able to tap into Fort Wayne, Ind., as well. Toledo will have the closest casino to that market."

Wilmott said 12 percent to 15 percent of Detroit's casino business comes from Ohio. A study by global management company McKinsey & Co. found that Detroit could lose as much as $30 million in gaming tax money once Ohio's four casinos are operating.

In 2011, Detroit's three casinos, including the MGM Grand Detroit, collected $1.424 billion from gaming.

"There is no question that Ohio is going to put a hit on Detroit," Wilmott said.

Ohio could become one of Penn National's most active gaming markets. In addition to the Hollywood Toledo, the company will open the $400 million Hollywood Casino Columbus later this year.

Also, if legislation allowing Ohio's seven racetracks to add slot machinelike video lottery terminals survives a legal challenge, Penn National will move its harness racetrack from Toledo to Dayton and its thoroughbred track from Columbus to Youngstown. That would give the company headquartered in Wyomissing, Pa., gaming in four markets.

"Ohio is going to become an important state for our company," Wilmott said.

The Hollywood Toledo is on a 44-acre site next to the Maumee River off Interstate 75, roughly three miles from downtown. Wilmott said Toledo officials suggested the location, where an estimated 65,000 automobiles a day cross the river.

The 125,000-square-foot casino offers 2,000 slot machines and 60 table games, including a 20-table poker room. The property will have a 26-seat buffet and two full-service restaurants: Final Cut Steak & Seafood and Scene, a sports bar and grill. The H Lounge is an 80-seat entertainment area.

Wilmott said the building is master-planned for expansion, including more casino space and a hotel. However, Penn National promised Toledo officials it wouldn't add hotel rooms until occupancy in downtown Toledo hotels, now at 45 percent, tops 65 percent.

The Hollywood Toledo hired 1,300 employees, 90 percent of whom came from the Toledo area. Richard St. Jean, the casino's general manager, said the employees will have participated in more than 150,000 hours of training by the time the casino opens.

"They're excited about the opportunity," St. Jean said. "The vast majority has never worked in a casino."