Hollywood Casino draws huge crowd

on Wednesday, 03 October 2012.

Hollywood Casino Columbus was buzzing Wednesday as Penn National Gaming Inc. (NASDAQ:PENN) worked out the kinks at the $400 million gambling house.

A Tina Turner-like singer in a circa-1980s rock and funk band belted out tunes on the stage at the casino’s O.H. lounge and sports bar while some lucky gamblers loudly celebrated their winning efforts at the roulette and craps tables.

It was all part of a “controlled demonstration” by the casino under the oversight of the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The invitation-only event, which is expected to draw more than 10,000 people, is the final hurdle before the casino’s grand opening Oct. 8.

I scored a VIP ticket to the event and walked through the gaming area after lunch. The place was packed, with long lines at the casino’s Epic Buffet and Take 2 Grill as well at the windows where gamblers signed up for Penn National rewards casino cards.

Walking into the Columbus casino was somewhat of a milestone moment for me. I have been covering the Ohio casino issue since 2008 when professional poker player Lyle Berman and some business partners tried to convince Ohio voters to approve their plan for a casino in Clinton County near Wilmington. Their effort failed, opening the door for the successful casino campaign mounted by Penn and Dan Gilbert’s Rock Gaming LLC in November 2009.

I had a chance to visit Penn’s Hollywood Casino Toledo in May, so I had an idea of what to expect at the Columbus venue. Both try to recreate the feel of Hollywood in the 1930s, featuring ornately carved, art deco-style pillars rising to high ceilings and movie posters of stars from the past.

What struck me most about the Columbus casino is its sheer size. It looks to be about a third larger than the one in Toledo. By the numbers, its 120,000-square-foot gaming floor has 3,014 slot machines, 78 table game and 30 poker tables. All were seeing plenty of action Wednesday afternoon.

The casino is so large that it took awhile to get my bearings. I got a great piece of advice from one of the scores of Penn National employees who were helping guests figure out the layout. He said to walk around the perimeter of the gaming floor, and I would be able to figure out the lay of the land.

“It’s like Interstate 270,” he said. “Go all the way around it, and you’ll see everything.”

I ended up dropping $20 on the slot machines. But it was for a good cause. All proceeds from the controlled demonstration go to five charities selected by Penn National – Mid-Ohio Foodbank, Salvation Army, Hilltop YMCA, Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone and the West Broad Street center of Buckeye Ranch.

Jeff Bell covers public policy, utilities, energy and the business of sports for Business First.