Casino Expansion Plans Advance; New Addition To House Table Games, More Slots, Restaurant

Casino Expansion Plans Advance; New Addition To House Table Games, More Slots, Restaurant

BERLIN — The Casino at Ocean Downs received approval from the Worcester County Planning Commission yesterday to build a nearly 53,000-square-foot addition to its current facility to make way for table games, among other amenities.
“It’s going to serve for an expansion of the slot machines. There are going to be a few additional slot machines and I believe they’re going to actually relocate some slot machines also to open up the existing area because it’s kind of tight in the existing building. And there will be the addition of a number of table games also,” said John Salm of J.W. Salm Engineering told the commission Thursday.
Along with gaming, the new area will have a restaurant, office and storage space.
The casino has been eligible to add table games since last winter when the state legislature approved the change after a long back-and-forth debate. However, Ocean Downs General Manager Joe Cavilla explained in May that the casino was out of space and did not want to remove any video lottery machines to make room for table games. The 53,000-square-foot expansion will provide plenty of room for both.
As an added bonus for race fans, the new space will include restroom facilities for spectators at Ocean Down’s harness racing events. The facilities will be blocked off from the casino during races so that they can be used by minors. When live races are not in session, the restrooms will be available to casino patrons.
Ocean Downs was only requesting site plan approval for the exterior of the building this week, Salm told the planning commission, and will still need to go through the state gaming commission for approval for most of the proposed interior.
“We’re asking for site plan approval to start putting up the shell of the building. There are a number of other approvals that have to be granted by the gaming commission for what we’re going to be doing here,” he said. “The additional interior uses in the building will actually go through the department of development, review and permitting at a later date once the gaming commission says we can do that.”
Attorney Hugh Cropper, on behalf of the casino, asked for 12 waivers from the county design code for the proposed building. The commissioners granted several of the waivers on topics like irrigation and landscaping.
However, Commissioner Brooks Clayville protested the unilateral design of the building, which would run its entire length with no architectural breaks.
“Something needs to be done to the building to break up the mass, at least on the Route 589 side,” he said.
Clayville admitted that he wasn’t an architect and might be offending the building’s designer, Peter Chick, but that the county code was in place for a reason and the current site plan was lacking.
Chick replied that the design was done so purposefully so as not to distract from the main building. Also, it was designed without columns inside and was not meant to have any borders or interruptions outside.
“It’s column free even to the extent that the second floor is being hung from the roof to leave the room clear from wall-to-wall,” said Chick.
The commission insisted, however, and after a short break Salm and Cropper offered to add minor aesthetic tweaks to the exterior such as borders and noticeable vestibules to break up the flat bulk of the building.
After some debate, Salm also agreed to include a five-foot sidewalk and some landscape islands with most of their other requests waived.
No timeline was given on when the new addition will be open to the public.