St. Jean: Casino construction ‘coming along quickly’Written by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The $300 million Hollywood Casino-Toledo, scheduled to be the first complete casino in Ohio, is rapidly taking shape.
“It’s coming along quickly,” General Manager Richard St. Jean said. “I saw it for the first time when I drove into town about a month ago and I was just blown away by the view and proximity. It couldn’t have a better location. It’s just spectacular.”
Other Ohio cities expected to open casinos in the future include Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus. Cleveland’s casino could still open before Toledo’s but it would only be a partially complete facility. The Toledo casino, which broke ground in August, is scheduled to open in the latter part of 2012’s second quarter.
“You can see the formation,” St. Jean said. “It’s really starting to take shape. A lot of the infrastructure is starting to come up and the walls are starting to go up. I would say within 30 to 60 days you will really be able to make out the different venues and what it looks like. It’s just amazing how quickly it moves.”
Despite the speed of the structure coming into fruition, St. Jean still has his deadlines. He is pushing to finish enclosing the building by the fall, especially after the setbacks that the elements provided during the past year.
“From a timing perspective it’s critical to get the building enclosed,” St. Jean said. “Particularly with the winter we had and then the rain, that didn’t help the process along.
“Now the goal is to get it enclosed so that by early fall we are totally enclosed and the majority of the focus becomes the inside of the property. At the end of the year, the building on the outside will look virtually complete.”
Leaving Las Vegas
St. Jean started his job as general manager of Hollywood Casino-Toledo a month ago after accepting the position from Penn National Gaming. He spent the past 25 years in Las Vegas working positions at Caesar’s Palace and Station Casinos.
After working on projects including the Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Mich., and the expansion of Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln, Calif., St. Jean heard about plans for a new casino in Toledo. The combination of bringing one of the first casinos to Ohio and helping a struggling economy was just what he was looking for to join Penn National.
“I’ve known the Penn guys for about 10 years now,” St. Jean said. “I developed a great relationship and we said if the time was ever right we could have a [business] relationship. When I started learning about this project and it being one of the first in the state, the magnitude of the project and what it does for the economy I was very excited. It’s an exciting project in a part of the country I think could really use it. I think that Penn, myself and the team I’m putting together can really fulfill all those obligations.”
To give him an idea of just what to expect with the more intricate aspects of the new casino, St. Jean began touring other Penn National facilities around the country. In early July, St. Jean traveled to its property in Charleston, W.V., for a more detailed look at the facility’s electronics, which will be integrated into Hollywood Casino-Toledo.
“I went to see how it comes together,” St. Jean said. “There’s a lot of electronic messaging and technology that is particularly new to this region. It was hard to really understand what it meant until I went and saw it.”
That experience will be crucial in the upcoming stages of development, especially in a facility with so many different parts under one roof. The facility will have 119,000 square feet of gaming floor, including about 3,000 slot machines, 60 table games and 21 poker tables.
Also featured in the building will be an entertainment venue which plans to consistently provide stage acts to perform. The casino’s goal will be to provide entertainment for the venue upwards of seven nights a week.
“I see there is a tremendous need,” St. Jean said. “You can have great bands midweek and step it up on the weekends. It’s a venue that not only opens up to the lounge but opens up to the entire casino. It’s definitely going to be an entertainment mecca. It doesn’t anywhere compete with the larger venues, but we have created our own centric entertainment venue here in the middle of the casino.”
The casino will also feature many different food options for incoming patrons. Among the places to eat will be Final Cut, a fine dining steakhouse, as well as the 350-seat Epic Buffet, a sports-themed restaurant and bar and a “grab-and-go” area.
“One of the staples for Penn National Gaming is the quality of food and the food offered,” St. Jean said. “I think you are going to be able to find something for everybody. At the end of the day it’s about taking care of the guests, giving them what they want and making sure they want to come back.”
For the casino to best take advantage of all of its features, St. Jean knows he will need to select the best employees for the job. In a job market where he expects to receive interest from upwards of 15,000 applicants, hiring around 1,000 people will be no small feat.
There are, however, two major qualifications St. Jean is looking for. Hiring locally is a major goal for the casino, looking to employ at least 90 percent of its employees from the Toledo area. He also said that all applicants skilled in working with people will have a significant edge over others.
“What we are really looking for at every position is people that can be a service ambassador,” St. Jean said. “The No. 1 criteria we are looking at when we are selecting people is their ability to be friendly, outgoing, gregarious and really create that kind of environment. We definitely look for the special technical skills, but it’s really going to come down to people skills and their personality.”
The casino will officially take online applications in the fall. St. Jean said that applicants can also express their interest in positions through its website, www.HollywoodCasinoToledo.com, and keep up to date on the hiring process. Initial plans are to begin searching for employees from October through December and make offers in the first two months of 2012.
As for the salaries, St. Jean expects tipped jobs “will be very lucrative,” while non-tipped jobs will be dictated by the market. Employment will also include medical plans.
Being an employee won’t necessarily exclude you from all the fun either. Employees will be barred from playing many of the games in the casino, but St. Jean expects there to be some gambling they should be able to participate in.
“We do allow some team members to gamble but it obviously depends on the job that you do,” St. Jean said. “Some jobs by position and level in the organization are prohibited from gambling but more positions than not are allowed to play slots. Typically, no one is allowed to play table games. That has to be vetted out with the Ohio Gaming Commission. We can’t say for sure but there should be some form of gambling.”
Among some of the concerns is a lack of a hotel near the property. For the casino to be built in Toledo, one of the guidelines was it could not build a hotel on-site or within 10 miles until Lucas County hotels sustain a 68 percent threshold in occupancy for a three-year period.
A lack of a hotel on-site has brought concerns of an increase in drunken driving. Those worries are not lost on St. Jean, who will attempt to prevent alcohol-related issues before they start by teaching his employees “preventive training.”
“Any team member that has anything to do with alcohol serving, whether that’s at the restaurant and the bar or the valet handing out keys, is properly trained,” St. Jean said. “If someone’s intoxicated we will get them a cab. If they need to get to a hotel we will coordinate those. We take every step to make sure not only that our team members are safe but our patrons are safe. That’s an extensive part of our training.”
One option for getting customers to their hotels Downtown includes shuttles, which the casino plans on providing free to customers.
“We are planning to have transportation back and forth Downtown,” St. Jean said. “There will be a collaborative effort with the local lodging association so we can understand who wants to partner and who’s looking for this kind of business.
It behooves us to have guests that want to stay here in town on extended stays. Those are certainly mutually beneficial. It’s all a work in progress.”
Portions of this interview were conducted with Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller during the July 11 broadcast of “Eye on Toledo” on WSPD 1370 AM.