Early Slots Play Exceeds Expectations in Pennsylvania

With Philadelphia Park about ready to open its slot-machine parlor, gaming at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, located in a much smaller market, has exceeded expectations after the first two weeks of operation.

Melinda Tucker, director of racetrack gaming for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, told the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission Nov. 30 the amount bet on slots at the harness track was much greater than projections and thus provides reason for optimism in the horse racing industry. Pocono was the first track in the state to turn on the machines.

From the first day of operation, Nov. 14, through Nov. 29, gamblers at Pocono near Wilkes-Barre in the northeastern part of the state poured $81,583,765 into 1,093 slot machines. Gross revenue--calculated as total amount wagered minus amount of money won--was $8,019,594.

"I'm thrilled with the returns," Tucker said. "The numbers are much higher than we anticipated. I don't know how long it will last, but it more than exceeds what we expected for the first two weeks. I'm very happy to see this, especially for all of the people who worked so hard for this to come to fruition. This was the intent of the statute."

Doug Harbach, deputy director of communications for the gaming control board, said about $1 million of the revenue earned from the first two weeks would go directly to the Pennsylvania racing industry. Harbach said another 1,000 machines will be up and running at Pocono by next year.

The good news came just three weeks before Philly Park is set to unveil its slots operation. The Bensalem Township racetrack, the state's largest and most lucrative Thoroughbred racing venue, has set its grand opening for Dec. 19 or Dec. 20, with more than 2,000 machines ready to go.

"We were thinking the average person would wager $400 per machine," Tucker said. "We might have to start revising that thinking. We're hoping (Philadelphia Park) will do quite a bit more (than Pocono Downs). We're keeping our fingers crossed that it meets our expectations."

Also at the Nov. 30 meeting, officials released the 2007 racing schedule at Philly Park, which expects purses to rise to as much as $500,000 per day in four years. The schedule calls for live racing four days per week year-round. In all, the track requested 208 racing days, eight more than the 200 days required under the slots law, which was signed in July 2004.

Slots play at Harrah's Chester Downs, a harness track that opened for live racing in September, is scheduled to begin Jan. 16.