News and Notes

Hollywood vibe coming to racetrack

CHARLES TOWN - Charles Town Races & Slots turned up the glitz Wednesday as plans were unveiled for its new name and look.

Starting in July, the facility will officially become known as Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, said General Manager Al Britton.

"That's right, we're going Hollywood baby," Britton said during his presentation.

Several hundred people, including area residents and local officials, gathered for the afternoon announcement. As they assembled in the facility's Epic Buffet, a Marilyn Monroe impersonator donning red lipstick and a feather boa stood on stage. A Charlie Chapman impersonator, meanwhile, mingled with the crowd, tipping his hat to those in attendance. They were part of an upscale but comfortable feel that officials said the facility plans to take on later this summer as it rolls out the red carpet for table games.

Britton said the name embraces the facility's 77-year tradition of horse racing, and also includes a reference to the increased Hollywood-style feel that is being planned at the site.

"Hollywood is a great brand that Penn National Gaming has successfully introduced in other markets around the country," he said.

The racino's parent company already operates eight other Hollywood casinos nationwide, with plans to open a ninth in Perryville, Md.

Britton said that as the company expands the Hollywood brand in Charles Town, a number of renovations are being made at the local facility. Plans are in the works to give the racino more of a 1930s art deco feel. Modern features also are being included in the mix. The end result will be "a little bit more of a sophisticated atmosphere," he said.

Appearances aren't the only changes that are in store. Charles Town Races & Slots also is preparing for the addition of 85 tables, featuring 12 different variates of games. Britton said the games will include craps, black jack roulette, and others. A new poker room also is in the planning stages that will eventually include 27 additional tables.

Britton said that when table games come on line in July, the company plans to retain the more 5,000 slot machines that it currently offers. The machines and table games will be located not only in current playing areas, but also in additional space that was created during past renovations.

Once complete, the finishing touches will make the racino a "full service" gaming facility, he said. It will be one of the four largest gaming sites in the country in terms of floor size, and it will be larger than any single venue in either Atlantic City or Las Vegas.

Britton said the facility plans to continue being a location where a broad range of people are able to play, noting that the minimum bets required to play table games at the site will vary. The average person presently spends roughly $100 at the facility. He said the company wants to continue to accommodate its customers, and costs will be driven by demand.

High rollers are not being left out of the mix, and one section of the facility is expected to include both high-end table games and slots after renovations are complete. Tony Carolo, director of player development, said minimum bets in these areas will start at $50 and go "up to the thousands." Currently, even the most costly of slot machines require only a $5 bid, he said.

High-end entertainment also is planned. Britton said a new site known as Hollywood on the Roof is being included in renovations that are under way. The two-level venue will feature 350 seats and a stage for live performances.

To prepare for all of these changes, the facility is expanding its work force. Once all is said and done, Britton said the racino is expected to be home to nearly 1,800 employees, a sizable increase for the facility, which already is the county's largest private employer.

New hires are expected to include table games dealers, 400 of whom already are being trained on-site through a program offered by Blue Ridge Community and Technical College. The dealers are expected to fill both full- and part-time positions, officials said.

Britton said 70 percent of the new dealers are from West Virginia, while roughly 40 percent reside in Jefferson County.