Casino answers critics with six months of successWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Richard St. Jean doesn’t walk more than a few steps through Hollywood Casino Toledo without pausing to say “Thanks for coming” to a guest or greeting an employee by name.
The general manager has plenty to be cheerful about as the casino, which opened May 29, marks its six-month anniversary. Business is brisk while concerns about increased crime, traffic jams and gambling addictions have largely subsided.
“Early on, we did our best to assure local residents, businesses and government that a lot of what you hear [about casinos] isn’t necessarily true and won’t materialize,” St. Jean said. “[Rossford has had] virtually, no incidences associated with those fears, aside from increased traffic on the Toledo side obviously coming up and down 75. And we’ve heard the same thing from [Toledo Police] Chief [Derrick] Diggs and Mayor Bell, so all of our efforts to educate and inform everyone early on have now been validated by what they are actually seeing on a day-to-day basis. We’re very pleased they feel more comfortable with this neighbor in their backyard.”
Penn National Gaming, which operates the casino, is happy with the property’s performance, St. Jean said.
“We’re obviously very, very excited about our first six months of operation, particularly the volumes,” St. Jean said. “Table games, poker and food and beverage in particular have far exceeded our expectations and slots is actually right around where we expected it would be.”
Gamblers wagered a total of $138.8 million at Toledo’s casino in October, including $124.9 million on slot machines and $13.9 million on table games. Total wagers were down about 9 percent from the $153.1 million wagered in September, which was down about 9 percent from the $168.2 million wagered in August, according to monthly reports from the Ohio Casino Control Commission. Wagers in August were down about 11 percent from the $189.1 million wagered in July, which were down about 12 percent from the $215.2 million wagered in June, the casino’s first full month of operation.
Taxable revenue in October was $14.8 million, down from $15.9 million in September, $17.4 million in August, $19.1 million in July and $20.4 million in June.
“This dip in business month over month as we settle into the fourth quarter of 2012 was absolutely expected and we expect to ramp up as we head into 2013,” St. Jean said. “We looked at what we’ve seen at other grand openings, particularly in the Detroit market, and we’re really following those trends very, very closely.
“We consider ourselves relatively monopolistic in Northwest Ohio. We’re actually pleased to see Detroit has been able to sustain their current business levels and the region is growing organically, so we think it’s a good story for everybody.”
The Michigan Gaming Control Board could not reached for comment.
St. Jean said he is proud Toledo’s casino fulfilled its pledge to hire 90 percent of its workforce locally and to promote from within. So far, 55 team members have been promoted once, six have been promoted twice and two have been promoted three times.
“The enthusiasm we continue to see even after six months is really unparalleled,” St. Jean said. “We’ve got an extremely passionate workforce and I think that carries over to the quality of service we provide.”
More than 222,000 people are Marquee Rewards members at Hollywood Casino Toledo, St. Jean said.
“We’re very pleased with that number, particularly for being open for six months. It’s extraordinary,” he said.
The casino is also exploring adding more entertainment options beyond gaming, such as a riverfront concert series, car show or food and wine festival, said Vice President of Marketing Jason Birney.
“There’s still somewhat of a perception I hear that you must be a gamer to come to the casino, which is far from the truth,” St. Jean said. “We’re really pretty well-rounded and we’re seeing more and more consumers who are just coming for the other amenities, which we are very pleased with as well.”
Director of Food and Beverage Marc Guastella said expectations were high for the casino’s four eateries, but he feels all have delivered.
“We set the bar high and I really feel like we’ve achieved our goals,” Guastella said. “You’re always going to have a few speed bumps when you open and obviously in this business you can never be perfect, but it’s striving for that every single day. We’re getting great comments.”
Guastella hopes Final Cut Steak & Seafood will earn a Forbes four-star rating when the next report is released in spring 2013.
“Four stars is very achievable for us and I’m confident we can achieve that,” Guastella said.
Brenda Schwind, vice president of the Rossford Business Association (RBA), said the casino is a “great partner,” with St. Jean regularly attending meetings, promoting member businesses to employees and offering financial sponsorship.
“Everybody I’ve talked to, even people who were really leery of the casino coming in, are impressed with the facility and I’ve heard nothing but good comments,” said Schwind, of Directions Credit Union. “I think people have been very surprised. They’ve proven to be a very good neighbor.”
Rossford Mayor Neil A. MacKinnon III agreed.
“It’d be hard to find a day you couldn’t find a team member from Penn Gaming in a Rossford business,” MacKinnon said during a recent Rossford City Council meeting. “I’ve been in business quite a while now and I know these guys are sincere and they are for real. I consider them friends and I consider them part of the fabric of the community. Their participation in the RBA has been phenomenal.”
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell also feels the casino is a positive asset, said Public Information Officer Jen Sorgenfrei.
“The revenues are definitely aiding the city budget and they’ve been a good corporate citizen, contributing to local philanthropy and supporting community organizations,” Sorgenfrei said. “They are still finding their equilibrium, but remain a positive asset to the region.”
Crime and police
Eleven people — including a casino employee and an Oregon man — were charged in August with felony offenses related to cheating at Toledo’s casino shortly after it opened. But there hasn’t been the major influx of crime like many feared, said Rossford Police Chief Glenn Goss Sr.
“Whenever you have more people, you’re going to have more issues, but we haven’t had any major incidents that you can point your finger at and say, ‘That’s the casino’s fault,’” Goss said. “It’s still new. We’re still monitoring. We’ll have to wait and see. There could be good and bad down the road, but as far as law enforcement, it hasn’t really affected Rossford directly, which we’re thankful for.”
Penn National recently presented a $200,000 grant to Rossford’s police and fire departments; $70,000 of that has been earmarked for new radios, Goss said.
Penn National also donated more than $12,000 to help Rossford Police create a K9 unit.
“That’s something they didn’t have to do,” Goss said. “They reached out to us. I thought it was neat because that’s just who they are. That’s how they operate. Before, during and after their opening, the Hollywood Casino folks have just been really good people. I keep hearing people call them good neighbors, like a cliché, but truly they are. I think we’re really fortunate to have the casino here.”
Bill McFarland, interim superintendent of Rossford Schools, said the district has had no issues with crime or traffic, as some parents feared.
“We really have seen no effect. We hardly know it’s there’ to be honest with you,” McFarland said.
“The hysteria and paranoia I think has long been forgotten. I think it’s functioning really well and I don’t think it’s having any negative effect on our community at all.”
Larry Eilert, owner of Larry’s Auto Center in Rossford, said he’s pleased with an uptick in business the casino has created.
“I’ve gotten more customers from there, especially the employee side of it,” Eilert said. “There is more traffic —but it’s a good traffic, not a bad traffic. I think restaurants and others have seen a little bit of increase from people coming through with traveling, so I think it’s a positive. Right as of now, I’m very pleased with it.”
Holley Bockelman, who owns Bock’s Place in Rossford with her father Bill Bockelman, said the casino hasn’t helped business as much as they were hoping, but it hasn’t hurt either.
“Really nothing has changed,” Bockelman said. “We thought it would be better. But the people who do come here are faithful. We get some of the casino workers later at night. Very, very seldom the out-of-towners. The locals will sometimes meet here and then go down there for a little gambling, some cocktails, watch a concert and then come back here. So that’s fun.”
Rossford City Councilman Larry Oberdorf Sr. said the casino has proved detractors wrong.
“A lot of people had apprehensions about Penn coming into this community and I think Penn has answered with good qualification all of those apprehensions,” Oberdorf said during a recent Rossford City Council meeting. “We haven’t had the traffic problems we had assumed or any of the other illicit things some people thought would happen. It’s really a professional organization. I’m extremely happy to have them in our locale.”
For more information, visit www.hollywoodcasinotoledo.com.