Thrusday, December 31, 1998

Merry season for casinos

Indiana boats add attractions

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With the holidays bringing in capacity crowds and breaking up winter gaming doldrums, southeastern Indiana's riverboat casino operators are anticipating a lucrative new year.

        Holiday vacationers are flocking to Argosy Casino and Hotel in Lawrenceburg and Grand Victoria Casino and Resort in Rising Sun.

        Area gamblers also are boarding buses and hopping into cars to try their luck at the huge Caesars Glory of Rome, which opened Nov. 20 in Bridgeport, across the Ohio River from Louisville.

        Holiday gamblers who lay down bets at table games and feed coins into slots are making December the riverboats' most successful fall or winter month, industry analysts said.

        “Riverboats typically do well even on Christmas Day,” said Larry Pearson, editor and publisher of Passenger Vessel News, a trade magazine for the gaming industry. “A lot of people will finish opening their presents and head to the riverboats.”

        Some New Year's Eve cruises on each riverboat have sold out. Pavilion parties and entertainment are also expected to draw crowds.

        Yet July and March remain the industry's most successful months, Mr. Pearson said.

        In 1999, the Ohio River casinos will open new facilities and do more to ensure passengers' comfort. It's all part of operators' plans to bring loyal gamblers back time and again.

        Argosy, which has repeatedly topped its own national attendance and gaming revenue records in 1998, will unveil a high-stakes casino area in the spring.

        Perched on the riverboat's third floor, atop plush carpets and beneath chandeliers, high rollers will be able to bet at a dozen tables with minimum bets of $25, $50 and $100. At 150 slot machines, they will be able to play tokens worth $5, $10 and $25.

        “People have seen these things in either Las Vegas or Atlantic City and we want them to see them here, too,” said Argosy general manager Arnold Block. “We want the latest and greatest.”

        At Grand Victoria, customers will be able to play golf on an 18-hole champion course due to open in the fall. The casino will continue to offer concerts and entertainment, and will gear up its promotions to ward off competition from the new Glory of Rome.

        “I think what we're going to see, over the first six months of 1999, is the true impact of the Caesars boat and how it's going to nibble away at our southern flank,” said general manager John Spina.

        “The market is still relatively young. As it matures — and it will mature and peak out — I think we'll still see some single-digit growth next year for us and Argosy ... and double-digit growth at Caesars.”

        At the Glory of Rome, which usurped Argosy as the world's largest riverboat casino, patrons are getting a taste of the pavilion. Nearly 25 percent of the planned 170,000-square-foot facility is complete. In the coming year, four restaurants, an entertainment center and shops will be added. The vessel and pavilion are part of a $300 million complex.

        Depending on the outcome of archaeological studies, a hotel will be built in either late 1999 or 2000.

        The four-deck riverboat has a capacity of 5,000 passengers and crew. It is 452 feet long and features more than 2,800 slot machines and 140 gaming tables.

        “We think we'll have a really good year, and it will only get better as we get everything open,” said Caesars Indiana spokeswoman Judy Hess.

        And engineering and preliminary construction will begin next year for the Ohio River's final Indiana riverboat casino: Hollywood Park-Boomtown, slated to open in summer 2000 in Florence in Switzerland County.

        Overall, the southeastern Indiana gaming market is doing extremely well, Mr. Pearson said.

        The challenge for casino operators in the years ahead will be to maintain their success.

        “We're excited,” said Mr. Block, summing up the feeling at Argosy as well as its competition. “Our challenge now is to show year-over-year improvement.”


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