Maryland casino

Oct 5, 2010 7:07 AM

Newest casino open in Maryland

Penn National Gaming (PENN), the most aggressive of American gaming giants, opened its Maryland operation, Hollywood Casino Perryville, last week, half an hour north of Baltimore -- just off one of the major highways in the east, the I-95 corridor between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Eighty-two thousand cars a day pass the Perryville exit off I-95, and Penn National figures more than a few will exit and visit its new Perryville operation.

So does Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who was on hand for the grand opening last Thursday. By then, 21,000 people had visited the casino in its first four days of operation. The casino, not lavish by Vegas standards but following Penn National’s Hollywood theme, offers 1,500 slots to customers from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and points east and west. It opened three days ahead of schedule and four weeks ahead of original estimates, unique in itself in these days of delay. Penn National boss Peter Carlino does not tarry or mess around. The casino offers the first legal slots in Maryland in almost half a century.

Carlino tested the waters in Las Vegas less than a year ago and quickly decided they were not for him. Since then he tested them in Texas and decided they were. So he bought rights to three tracks, including Sam Houston Park in America’s fourth largest city, figuring that Texas will not long withstand the lure of slots. When it succumbs to that seducer, Penn National’s flag will be flying over them in the Lone Star state.

It also will be flying soon in Ohio, with standalone casinos in Columbus and Toledo and presumably racinos in both cities, where Penn National already owns Toledo Raceway, a harness track and Beulah Park, a thoroughbred track.

While this was going on, New York accepted its upfront check of $340 million from the Malaysian gambling giant Genting, which got for its money and moxie the rights to build and operate a racino at Aqueduct racetrack for 30 years. Genting has big plans for its new gambling hall in the center of America’s flagship city, with a subway line running to its front door. It expects to spend well over a billion dollars building the racino and rebuilding the aging racetrack, and it transforms overnight the future of the New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.

In neighboring New Jersey, where the Meadowlands racetrack, eight miles from Times Square, sits idle at the moment, the legislature and the governor ignore it in the questionable hope of creating Las Vegas East in Atlantic City.

They could instead make a deal to have the Atlantic City casinos operate, either individually or in a consortium, a racino at the Meadowlands, which sits in the heart of New York City’s suburban bedroom.

That solution would solve the knotty dispute of south vs. north in the populous state, to the benefit of all. But a truculent governor has his own ideas, and his own loyalties, to the casino crew that governs Atlantic City and heavily impacts the rest of the entire Garden State. Racing farms and training centers occupy tens of thousands of acres of that garden, and if it goes so goes the green of New Jersey.

So much for the big guys.

Well, not quite.

In Maine, where Penn National owns and operates a thriving Hollywood racino at little Bangor Raceway, a shadow crossed the horizon last week with little notice but considerable danger for the future.

Restless legislators, looking for more money, began eying Hollywood – the racino, not the city – and suggesting that possibly the state should get more and gaming less of the dollars pouring into the Bangor operation.

This could be the biggest threat of all, a contagious development that could spread widely and quickly.

You can be sure Penn National chairman Carlino and his chief executive officer and president, Tim Wilmott, will be keeping their eyes and ears on this one. So should everyone else involved in gaming, east or west. The threat will have to be met, sooner or later, by all.