Casino Preps For Early January Opening

BERLIN – While the new Casino at Ocean Downs will not open in 2010 as planned, preparations are underway for a grand opening just after the start of the new year.

Casino at Ocean Downs officials last week announced plans are in place for a Jan. 4, 2011 grand opening complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Governor Martin O’Malley and several other state and local dignitaries. The original target date, Dec. 16, announced earlier this fall came and went yesterday, but the $45 million facility is back on track for the Jan. 4 public opening.

From nearly the beginning of the process, renovating the old grand stand at Ocean Downs proved challenging for casino officials. Ocean Downs was awarded the very first slots license in Maryland in September 2009 and track officials immediately embarked on an ambitious plan to open the new casino by last Memorial Day.

However, during the initial demolition phase, the presence of asbestos and problems with the structural steel of the decades-old grandstand presented early setbacks for the new slots facility near Berlin, which will house 700 video lottery terminals when it opens early next month. Once the initial structural projects were overcome, the renovation of the old grandstand to a state-of-the-art casino accelerated through the summer months.

In addition, improvements to Route 589 at the approaches for the new facility, including improved ingress and egress locations and a new traffic signal are also nearing completion. Earlier this fall, casino officials announced a December 16 target date, but with the unforeseen issues discovered early and a handful of other minor setbacks, the facility is now slated to open the first week of the new year.

“The Jan. 4 opening is a testament to the dedication of our construction team and staff working to bring this gaming experience to the people of Maryland,” said Casino at Ocean Downs General Manager Joe Cavilla last week. “We ran into some challenging construction delays, some bad weather, for example, that threatened to push back our opening. Thanks to the nearly non-stop work of our staff, we are able to open very close to our target date and, most importantly, we have not compromised on quality to do so. Our guests will see that from the moment they hit the casino floor.”

The casino will feature over 700 video lottery terminals initially, housed in roughly 34,000 square feet of gaming space and new food and beverage offerings. From the beginning, providing exceptional customer service has been a top priority for the Casino at Ocean Downs, according to Cavilla, and over 200 new employees, most of whom live in the areas around the facility, have been hired and trained in anticipation of opening day.

“Our team is energized and ready to provide our guests with a fun and memorable gaming experience,” he said.

Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Committee officials said last week they are looking forward to the opening of the casino near Berlin, which will host a soft opening and test of sorts for a special group on Dec. 29. The casino’s Maryland Lottery Controlled Demonstration will be held on that day and nearly 1,000 American Legion members have been invited to the private event to test the slots and try out the casino staff’s customer service skills.

Having American Legion members attend the shakedown cruise of sorts is somewhat ironic in that the county’s American Legion posts and other service organizations have tried unsuccessfully for the last three years to get approval for slots on a limited basis.

“The Location Commission is thrilled with the announced opening of the slots facility at Ocean Downs,” said Commission Chairman Donald Fry last week. “We were impressed with the plans for the site and are confident this world-class entertainment facility will be tremendous asset to the Eastern Shore and the entire state of Maryland.”

Meanwhile, just days after the opening date for the Casino at Ocean Downs were officially announced last week, the facility reached another significant milestone. On Tuesday, the Maryland State Lottery Commission granted the Casino at Ocean Downs a license to operate video lottery terminals. The license authorizes the facility to operate the roughly 700 VLTs following a successful controlled demonstration on December 29 and the completion of a few physical plant requirements and compliance stipulations.

“We are thrilled to have earned the agency’s approval and we look forward to introducing this terrific facility to our neighbors and visitors to Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” said Cavilla this week.

Meanwhile, early figures for the state’s slots facility in Cecil County suggest Ocean Downs can likely expect a honeymoon of sorts followed by a leveling off. The facility in Cecil County did over $2 million in sales its first four days in September or roughly $346 per machine per day. In October, the first full month, the Hollywood Casino in Perryville brought in $11.4 million, or about $245 per machine per day. In November, the slots facility in Cecil brought in $7.6 million, or roughly $169 per machine per day, according to the latest figures released last week.