- Associated Press
Monday, January 2, 2017

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) - In days gone by, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races was one of the only gambling and racing destinations for the Washington, D.C., area residents to choose from. They would come to Charles Town by the busload.

These days, there are many gambling options in Maryland, including the new MGM National Harbor casino, that are drawing business and profits away from the Charles Town casino.


According to the West Virginia Lottery, in the first two weeks since the $1.4 million National Harbor casino opened, video lottery revenues at Hollywood Casino are down about $670,000, or 19.5 percent, and table gambling revenues have dropped 22 percent, or about $214,000.

Hollywood Casino Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Eric Schippers said that the casino knew the day when MGM National Harbor was coming and prepared for it.

“We prepared well in advance by reinvesting in our business to remain competitive. Over the last few years we have built a new hotel, completely refreshed our slot machine offerings, added a new entertainment venue featuring top performers, and built new restaurants and added new amenities for our Asian guests,” he said.

According to Schippers, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town has no plans for any staffing changes despite their loss of business. While he admits they expect a roughly 20 percent drop in 2017 revenues in Charles Town, they still feel that they will “remain competitive.”

Annette Gavin, CEO of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, agrees with Schippers.

“This (the MGM National Harbor) is not the first casino that has popped up in the area. Each and every time the Hollywood Casino has adjusted and come out victorious,” Gavin said. “In response to the numbers and percentages (of business lost to Hollywood Casino) I’m not an expert in this. Of course the numbers in the first couple of weeks when anyone is new and open can have an impact. That doesn’t surprise me and doesn’t alarm me. I am confident that the people at the Hollywood Casino are watching and listening and are extremely intelligent people and will adjust their business model in any way they need to. I don’t think it’s a time to be an alarmist about it.”

James Karmel, a Maryland-based casino industry analyst with Gaming Atlantic, said he thinks Hollywood Casino should be making plans on how to set themselves apart from other area casinos.

“Right now, Charles Town needs to be looking to differentiate itself from the Maryland casinos including MGM National Harbor, located outside of Washington, D.C.,” Karmel said. In addition to being a casino industry analyst, he is a professor of history at Harford Community College in the Baltimore area and wrote a book about Atlantic City in 2008.

“The most obvious way to do that is by promoting its horse racing aspect. I think a creative marketing department could come up with a lot of ways to bring some excitement into their casino by tying the racing into the casino. One of the important niches that Charles Town should focus on is the young people. Young people haven’t been interested in horse racing,” Karmel explained. “The 20- to 30-year-olds are a very important demographic for the gaming industry. They are looking for exciting thrills. What is popular in the casino is skilled-based games. We are seeing the video gamification of the slot machines. Is there a way to make racing interesting and exciting through a gaming connection?”

Schippers did not reveal any new marketing plans to emphasize racing, but did stress what they think sets their casino apart from other area casinos.

“We offer additional amenities with the natural beauty, history, etc. We will continue to market the Hollywood Casino as a convenient getaway for the Northern Virginia, Western Maryland and D.C.-area markets,” Schippers said. “The benefits of coming to Charles Town include not only all the other area amenities, including white water rafting, nearby skiing, a stay at the historic Bavarian Inn and a visit to Harpers Ferry and the quaint shopping and dining in Shepherdstown, but we also offer free parking, unlike the $25 that MGM will charge for valet. We continue to offer smoking and non-smoking sections (Maryland is smoke free), exciting racing and more importantly we offer an escape from the constant D.C. and Maryland Beltway traffic.”

Gavin said she also believes that the many activities Jefferson County offers sets Hollywood Casino apart from other casino venues.

“I believe that we have the advantage is that we have the best positive visitor experience,” she said. “We have an incredible county that is rich in amenities. Hollywood Casino is just one of the many amenities that Jefferson County offers. A person who is interested in going to a casino, knows that there are other things to do here. We are next door to amazing outside activities, the trails, history, the quaint little small towns with amazing food. And shopping. This is a completely different environment that you will get here compared to any of the other casinos.”

Other than racing, Karmel cautions that Charles Town could never fully compete with the Las Vegas-style experience that MGM offers.

“I don’t think that Charles Town can effectively compete with that. They are never going to be able to create that. MGM National Harbor has Washington, D.C., there. The connection between D.C. tourism and casino gaming makes National Harbor a potential international resort,” Karmel said. “Charles Town’s best approach is to show how they are different to capitalize more of the regional gaming cliental.”

Gavin believes regardless of the success of MGM National Harbor, that Hollywood Casino will remain successful.

“They have world-class dining and great food there and terrific entertainment and they are highlighting that,” she said. “I think at the end of the day we will rise above. It’s not the time to get caught up in the numbers but for the Casino and all of our are partners to make sure visitors to the county have the best experience ever. And we will continue to do the best.”

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Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/


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