With the anticipation of a movie premiere Penn National Gaming this summer unveiled its Hollywood Casino on the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, Ind. - a $336 million, 150,000-square-foot behemoth with almost double the capacity of the 13-year-old Argosy Casino it replaced.
The casino’s two decks are “each wider than an aircraft carrier and nearly as long as a football field,” Penn National says in a press release. With more than 3,300 gaming positions (3,200 slots and electronic table games, 88 live tables, 41 poker tables) the company claims Hollywood is the “largest riverboat casino in the United States”.
Enticed with a saturation campaign of local advertising and viral marketing, crowds lined up for the opening on Thursday, June 25. That Friday, 19,000 people showed up, beating Argosy’s best day ever. Already the property is boasting a record-setting 25,000 gamblers a day.
“There’s a definitely a ‘wow’ factor when you walk in the casino,” General Manager Tony Rodio, a veteran of the Atlantic City gaming market, said while conducting a walking tour of the property. “Particularly for customers who had been on the old boat, there’s really no comparison.”
The interior is art deco and Hollywood-themed. Customers follow a “red carpet” through areas designed to look like studio back lot film sets: Central Park, where artificial trees strung with white lights share space with slot machines, and Water Works, where a wall of bubbling water recalls the elaborate 1930s movie musicals of Busby Berkeley.
The Hollywood Roof performance area features a large panoramic screen resembling the famed Hollywood Bowl. It shows sports, movie clips and videos. Nine large billboards advertise the latest movies. Movie trailers, sports and other programming play on a 60-foot serpentine video wall. Murals and portraits located throughout the casino capture Tinsel Town’s greatest films and stars, from Liz Taylor to “Jurassic Park”.
On weekends many of the dealers are dressed as stars; they take breaks from dealing to entertain.
“You’ll have Madonna dealing Blackjack, and then she’ll get up on a stage and perform ‘Vogue,’” Rodio said.
“This will mark the first time the World Poker Tour is coming to the Midwest and the first time it’s on a riverboat,” Rodio said. “We’re thrilled.”
Located 30 minutes from downtown Cincinnati, the new casino expects to make the most of the enviable location that stood its predecessor so well. It averaged $36.3 million in monthly revenue last year and is holding its own this year, posting first-half revenues of $199.2 million.
“This property has historically been one of the most financially successful riverboats in the country,” Rodio said. “Even in these difficult financial times there were Saturday nights when we had people waiting an hour to get on the boat. We had more demand than we had supply.”
And the new casino still has room to grow. Its 300 hotel rooms are newly remodeled. Over the next 18 months, 40,000 square feet of unfinished space may be converted for gambling, while a smallish and somewhat drab food court-style pavilion that is a holdover from Argosy will be updated into a snazzier space that fits in with the Hollywood theme.
“By opening this expansion we’ll be able to handle all the demand,” Rodio said. “And I think it’s inevitable that Kentucky and/or Ohio will have some kind of gaming. The capital that was deployed here will enable this property to hold on to as much market share as possible.”
- Located just off U.S. 50 in Lawrenceburg in southeastern Indiana, about 20 miles east of Cincinnati
- Opened: June 25, 2009
- Cost: $336 million
- 3,200 slot machines and electronic table games, 88 live table games and 41 poker tables, including nine high-limit tables
- 300 guest rooms
- Dining options include the Celebrity Grill, Hollywood on the Roof, Bogart’s Grille steakhouse, Passport Buffet and Jonathan’s, a New York-style deli.
- 2,200 employees
- Owned by Penn National Gaming