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Casinos fight for patrons' dollars

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 12:12 a.m.

S lot machines in Pennsylvania's casinos have been on a winning streak since gaming was introduced in the state in 2006, with revenue increasing steadily each year.

But a drop in slots revenue during the past three months might be a sign the luck is running out as competition grows from casinos popping up in neighboring states, according to Pennsylvania gaming officials.

The operators of the three casinos in Western Pennsylvania say the decrease is not a reason for them to be alarmed.

Gross revenue from slots at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos was down 9.2 percent in February compared with the previous February, which followed a 1 percent decline in January and a 2.2 percent decrease in December from the previous corresponding months, according to the state Gaming Control Board.

“There's no doubt that the casinos in our state are experiencing a certain amount of competition that is drawing down their revenue numbers,” said Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

“Gambling is being added, or new casinos are being built in Ohio, New York, Maryland and Delaware. The key to dealing with this changing landscape will be whether Pennsylvania's casinos can evolve in a way that allows them to hold onto their customer base,” McGarvey said.

Year over year, the sharpest three-month decline among Western Pennsylvania casinos occurred at Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie, where it dropped by 28 per cent in February, 21 percent in January and 22 percent in December, according to the state.

McGarvey said the losses are at least partially the result of the Horseshoe Casino, which opened in May in Cleveland.

Mike Tamburelli, general manager of Presque Isle, said in an email that while losses are always a concern, the casino is working to keep regular patrons and attract new ones by offering promotions and special events.

“This week, we added 16 new slot machines that we can use for tournaments once we get state approval,” he said.

Sean Sullivan, general manager of the Meadows Casino in Washington, where February slots revenue was down about 14 percent, said taking preventive steps to address competition “started well before we opened.”

Craig Clark, general manager of the Rivers Casino, said competition from casinos in surrounding states is not a major factor in its business decisions. While slots revenue was down 3.5 percent in February, it was up 3.4 percent in January and 2 percent in December.

“We're in a business that is constantly evolving, so we're always in the process of reinventing ourselves by introducing new marketing programs and events to keep things fresh,” Clark said.

Clark said Rivers tries to create interest with promotions such as last month's visit from NASCAR star Jeff Gordon, who greeted fans and signed autographs.

The casino regularly updates the menus in its restaurants and books entertainment and DJs.

“We're always looking ahead ... and are looking for new choices and gaming devices to keep things fresh,” Clark said.

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