Charles Town casino fights competition

CHARLES TOWN, (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, 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 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 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.