Hollywood Casino Joliet debuts

JOLIET — The Hollywood Casino era dawned Wednesday in Joliet.

The new name was put on the casino formerly known as Empress, and Penn National Gaming lifted the curtain on a new pavilion that combines Hollywood lights and screens with 1930s art deco decor.

“It’s very impressive — better than the old place,” said Jim Jurszyk, a Joliet customer at the casino. “This is gorgeous.”

Actors portraying Elvis, Rocky, Joan Rivers and an assortment of Hollywood characters mingled with customers in the pavilion as casino management drove the new theme home.

Even without Angelina Jolie or Sean Connery look-alikes in the pavilion, customers should get the message. The pavilion features a theater marquee and even a large overhead screen with movie trailers. A large electronic movie poster advertises “The Green Hornet.”

Joliet is the ninth Penn National Gaming casino to get the Hollywood treatment. The company also owns Hollywood Casino in Aurora.

Tim Wilmott, Penn National’s president and chief operating officer, said 12 of the company’s 20 casinos will have the Hollywood brand by the end of 2012.

The new theme and building make up a $70 million investment Penn National made in Joliet after a March 2009 fire that destroyed the Empress pavilion with its Egyptian decor. The company has been working to rebuild since.

“Today is the day we can finally put all that behind us,” Wilmott said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday. “We’re not competing with one hand tied behind our back in the Chicago casino market anymore.”

Customers back for a look at new casino

Wilmott said he believes the new pavilion will bring back customers, some of whom have not been to the casino since the fire.

Customers interviewed in the pavilion had not been away that long. Most were impressed with what they saw.

“It really looks good,” said Mitch Zaworski of Joliet. “I thought it would be more gaudy. It’s not.”

Jim and Donna Woolard of Bourbonnais, however, were not impressed after having had some bad luck in the casino.

“They tightened up all the slots. Nothing’s paying out,” Jim said.

Donna was disappointed there were not giveaways for customers to help celebrate the event.

“Just a T-shirt —something that says we were there for the grand opening,” she said while leaving empty-handed. “Nothing.”

Actually, there were giveaways for selected customers, just not everyone. And, one casino spokesman told of the complaint about the slots, replied, “Today we tightened up the slots? I don’t think so.”

Most people were pleased with the grand opening event.

Jon Johnson, general manager and vice president at Hollywood Casino Joliet, said he was glad the months of rebuilding are over.

“It feels great,” he said. “Quite honestly, it’s a relief not to have to take care of all the planning and the checklists. It will be great to be just operating.”

Also at the ribbon-cutting was Frank Quigley, the former general manager of the casino who was there when the fire broke out during a renovation of the old pavilion.

Quigley stayed to head up the early reconstruction work.

Reminded of a promise he made after the fire that the pavilion would be rebuilt “bigger and better” than before, Quigley said the project had turned out as he had hoped.

“I always knew it was going to be bigger and better,” he said. “If you ever could say the fire was a good thing, you could look at it now and say that.”

Can Hollywood bucks help Joliet’s grim economy?

JOLIET — The new pavilion at Hollywood Casino Joliet looks great, but can it help the casino make money? That was the question on many minds during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday.

Joliet City Councilman Thomas Giarrante put it politely but bluntly when speaking at the event: “From the bottom of our hearts we wish you do well because we could really use the money,” Giarrante said.

The city of Joliet is expecting to see $1.5 million less in its share of gaming revenue in 2011 — even with a new and improved Hollywood Casino — than it will get this year. That’s because a new casino to open in Des Plaines in 2011 is expected to cut into the business Hollywood Joliet and Harrah’s Casino Joliet get from the broader Chicago market.

Richard Porm of Hinsdale is an example of what Joliet budget makers worry about. Porm, a customer at Hollywood Joliet Wednesday, said he liked the new pavilion and would try the new restaurants. But asked about the new Des Plaines casino, Porm said he’d likely try that out, too.

Penn National Gaming, which owns Hollywood Casino Joliet, is not expecting 2011 to be a better year for the casino business than 2010. President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Wilmott said unemployment and housing values are likely to remain a drag on the market.

Not that the new pavilion won’t help. Wilmott said the Joliet casino is likely to get back customers it hasn’t seen since the March 2009 fire destroyed the old pavilion.

But, he added, “We haven’t seen growth in this market in three years.”

Even if Hollywood Casino gets more business, Joliet city officials will be watching to see if it just takes away customers from crosstown rival Harrah’s Joliet Casino & Hotel.

New casinos, racetrack slots

Meanwhile, Joliet city officials also have to worry whether the state will allow five more casinos, including three more in the Chicago market, along with slot machines at race tracks, which could divide up the market into smaller pieces. All that is in the bill that already passed the state Senate.

State Sen. A.J. Wilhelmi, D-Joliet, was at the Wednesday casino festivities and says it’s hard to tell what the legislature will do next year with the casino bill. He voted against it in the Senate, where the bill passed, and it goes next to a vote in the state House.

“I anticipate it’s going to be amended in the House,” Wilhelmi said. “I’m hoping it’s going to get better. Frankly, I don’t know how it could be much worse.”

From the Joliet perspective, more casinos elsewhere means less money here.

Tom Dunn, the former state senator from Joliet who pushed the legislation that put two casinos in Joliet, said he knew back then — the early 1990s — that the day would come when the state would add casinos.

“I always thought it was inevitable,” said Dunn, who was at the Hollywood Joliet ribbon-cutting. “The problem is there are only so many dollars out there. You run the risk of diluting the market.”

— Bob Okon

No comments:

Post a Comment

IndianEyeNews respect your feedback and responses, we consider your feedback as a reward. Thanks..