'Alarming' Opener for Penn National

Hollywood Casino opened on time Feb. 12 on a snowy day in Central Pennsylvania.

Hollywood Casino at Penn National opened on time Feb. 12 with bells and whistles--and with a rousing alarm and taped recording telling everyone to vacate the building.

At about 10 a.m. EST, an emergency alarm went off and remained on for a few minutes. As it turned out, the alarm was supposed to be tested about a half-hour before the new facility opened its doors to the public.

“You couldn’t have planned it any better,” Hollywood Casino marketing director Fred Lipkin said with a laugh.

The brief stir did nothing to impede opening day, but the weather forced cancellation of the first night of live Thoroughbred racing in the integrated racing and gaming facility. Officials canceled the Feb. 12 card the day before because of the weather forecast and a large number of shippers entered on the program.

Weather conditions did not improve Feb. 13, when racing also was canceled. A blanket of snow on the racing surface was covered by up to a half-inch of ice after a nasty storm the evening of Feb. 12.

Officials were hopeful racing could get under way Feb. 14 for the first time since Dec. 21, 2007.

The interior of the casino, which has only slot machines, is Hollywood-themed and has the “wow” factor, according to those on hand for the opener. It more resembles a Las Vegas casino than a racetrack retrofitted with slots.

Penn National Gaming Inc., headed by chairman Peter Carlino, opted to demolish the old racetrack, which opened in 1972, and build a new facility.

“I’m really pleased Peter Carlino took the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission seriously when it said it wanted an integrated facility,” said Melinda Tucker, director of racetrack gaming for the PGCB. “I’m cautiously optimistic it will be a benefit to the racing industry. I think it will do surprisingly well.”

After a few hours, the crowd began to pick up inside the casino. On the second level, horseplayers began to filter in at about noon before the first simulcast race. The only glitch on the racing side was there were no harness simulcast programs when the day’s simulcasts began.

Penn National and its off-track betting outlets sell products called Daily Racing Program and Daily Harness Program, both of which are printed by Daily Racing Form and sold in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. The Thoroughbred simulcast program was available.

On the third level, horsemen inspected the box-seating area and full-service restaurant that overlooks the track.

More than $3.74 million passed through the slot machines during two test nights Feb. 8 and Feb. 10. Gross gaming revenue topped $317,000, with local charities the major beneficiary.