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Hotel considered at Rivers to keep casino competitive with others in state

| Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 11:56 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A man walks across the street in front of the Rivers Casino on the North Side on Sunday, April 14, 2013.

A Rivers Casino spokesman said on Thursday that it has nearly completed $1 million in renovations and is considering expansion to keep pace in the region's increasingly competitive gambling industry.

“Gaming is very competitive with the variety of different choices people have, so we're always looking for ways to enhance the experience for our guests,” said Rivers General Manager Craig Clark.

The renovations didn't add amenities but expanded gambling options to attract more players. The Rivers relocated its Players Club to a larger space with more windows. The 4-year-old casino added two blackjack tables and 24 slot machines, bringing the total number of machines to 2,959.

It also rearranged tables around the West End Café to make room for future craps and blackjack tournaments, pending state approval.

Clark said officials are studying whether to build a hotel at the site, as the late Detroit businessman Don Barden envisioned when he announced plans in 2006 for the Majestic Star Casino on the North Shore. Although a hotel was part of his winning bid, plans didn't materialize and financial problems forced Barden to give up his controlling interest in the casino, which then became The Rivers.

“That is something we continue to look at,” Clark said, noting there is room on adjacent parcels that the casino owns.

Mount Airy Resort Casino in Mt. Pocono opened with a hotel in 2007. Two years ago, Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem became the first hotel to be added to a Pennsylvania casino. Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre is set to open a hotel next month. The Meadows said last year that it is considering whether to build one.

“Having a hotel may make sense, given the increased competition,” said Alex Bumazhny, an industry analyst with Fitch Ratings investment research service in New York. “It keeps patrons there longer, and they can start playing earlier in the morning and keep playing later into the night.”

Bumazhny said hotel rooms could be a draw for people who live more than an hour north of Pittsburgh, near a proposed casino site in Lawrence County and one under construction near Youngstown.

The Rivers is one of seven casinos within a two-hour drive of Pittsburgh, increasing competition for gamblers' dollars.

The others are The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane; Lady Luck Casino at Fayette County's Nemacolin Woodlands Resort; Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie; Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort and Wheeling Island, both in West Virginia; and Horseshoe Cleveland Casino.

“We are pretty much reaching a saturation point with casinos,” said Bumazhny.

Slot machines at The Rivers generated $22.1 million in revenue in September, down 1.2 percent from September 2012, according to state Gaming Control Board data. Table games brought in $6.1 million in August, down 7.6 percent from August 2012, the board's latest data show.

Clark said 50,000 square feet remain unused inside the casino that could become a restaurant and a banquet hall. He expects a decision to be made within a year. The casino is home to nine restaurants and bars, and it has a 1,000-seat riverfront amphitheater.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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