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Slots parlor hopes to cash in at new spot

Maine's $132m 'racino' set for grand opening

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jerry Harkavy
Associated Press / June 29, 2008

BANGOR - The slots parlor that set up shop nearly three years ago in a converted restaurant will begin its move up the street to grander quarters this weekend as one of the state's largest development projects in recent years nears completion.

The price tag for Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway has ballooned from an initial estimate of $70 million to $132 million, a figure that includes the gambling facility, a 1,500-space parking garage, and a 154-room hotel.

"We just kept adding to it and adding to it," said Jon Johnson, general manager of the complex that will open to the public Tuesday. The "racino" will close early today for the move, which is to be completed in time for an invitation-only grand opening celebration tomorrow night.

The Art Deco-style complex covers 8 acres on a site that had housed a Holiday Inn and a motel. Built close to the street, it gives a downtown flavor and an economic development kick-start to an area dominated by Bass Park, the Bangor Civic Center, and the landmark statue of Paul Bunyan.

Maine's only slots facility is authorized to have 1,500 machines but will begin operation with 1,000. They include 525 new machines and 475 that have been in use at the temporary gaming parlor in the former Miller's Restaurant; those will be moved across Main Street, about a quarter-mile away.

Johnson said patronage at the temporary site, in a nondescript building that offered few amenities, exceeded projections and attracted roughly 2 million players since it opened its doors in November 2005. Hollywood Slots owner, Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., is confident that the larger, more luxurious facility will also be a success.

The new incarnation features a 250-seat restaurant that offers what is billed as the largest buffet in Maine, a separate snack bar, a gift shop, and a stage that will feature live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights and large-screen music and sports videos at other times. The complex will be equipped with 400 security cameras.

A goal is to attract players who would otherwise travel to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and Canadians looking to spend their strengthened currency at entertainment venues on this side of the border. With a higher profile, the new complex is also more likely to gain the attention of vacationers who pass through Bangor en route to Bar Harbor and the Maine coast.

The project has been a bonanza for Bangor, a city of 31,000 that is the commercial hub for vast areas of northern and eastern Maine. In addition to 300 temporary construction jobs, the complex will employ a permanent workforce of more than 500 and is expected to provide the city with roughly $3 million a year from slots revenue and $2 million more in property taxes.

City Manager Ed Barrett said the casino is helping to fuel a development boom that could include a waterfront park along the Penobscot River and the replacement of the aging Bangor Auditorium with a new arena and convention center.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. Casinos No!, a statewide group that has battled casino development in Maine, said gambling doesn't draw new money into the economy and opens the door to such problems as crime and gambling addiction.

"People are dazzled by it all, the dollar signs, the activity, the initial construction jobs, and everything," said spokesman Dennis Bailey. "But studies show that most of the problems associated with casinos surface within three to five years after these things open. The jury's still out for people to say how good or bad it is."

A voter-approved referendum in 2003 set the stage for the arrival of slots in Maine. The measure permitted up to 1,500 machines at commercial harness-racing tracks in Bangor and Scarborough, but only in Bangor did it win local approval.

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