Ohio Casinos Buck Normal Trend, Remove Slots For Poker Tables



During the 1990s, the normal trend in casinos was to remove – or even eliminate – poker tables and rooms to make way for more slot machines. The reason was simple: the slots drew in more money than what could be pulled in from the rake on poker. In the new casinos in Ohio, there are moves being made that are bucking that normal trend.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Steve Wartenberg reports that the Hollywood Casino in Columbus will be gutting 500 slot machines from their playing floor for an expansion of their poker room. The Hollywood had a six table poker room for its players but, after analysis of the revenues coming in since its debut four months ago, has decided to put in an additional 30 tables to bring the total to 36.

“We’ve always talked about how when you first open, you basically make your best estimate of what games will be popular,” Wartenberg quotes Bob Tenenbaum, a spokesman for Hollywood Columbus, as saying. “We’ve been open four months now and are at the point at which we’ve been able to establish patterns and see what’s popular. The poker room has been way more popular than we anticipated.”

Originally, the Hollywood held approximately 3000 slot machines, but the revenues from that venue have been less than what was expected by the ownership of the casino, Penn National Gaming. In the month of December, each machine only generated $115, a decline from November’s average take of $137, according to numbers provided by Wartenberg. The Chief Executive Officer of Penn National, Timothy Wilmott, admitted that the slot revenue was a concern in a January conference call with investors, stating “I thought we’d be further ahead in slot volumes than we actually are.”

With the expansion of the poker room (and the ability to expand a bar area in the casino), Hollywood Casino is looking to increase that revenue. The revenues of poker are tricky, however. In Ohio, the rake on poker is 10% of the pot and is capped at $6. In Las Vegas, for example, the average daily revenue for poker tables in $414, but much of that is eaten up in paying dealers, floor staff and wait staff.

On the other hand, a slot machine costs between $18,000 and $25,000 and needs little but some maintenance by technicians on site. The revenues from slots are normally divvied up between the host casino and the developer of the particular slot machine.

It appears, however, that the Hollywood is looking beyond that in expanding its poker room. “Poker brings in a lot of people to the casino,” Tenenbaum said to Wartenberg. “They’ll play other games, they’ll have a meal, and maybe they’ll stay for the entertainment.”

The Ohio gaming scene is a particularly tough one and the move to provide more poker for its clientele could set it apart from its competition. There were three casinos as of 2009, but four more were allowed to open after that. Located in seven different cities around the state, these casinos are looking to keep their citizens at home to take part of casino offerings rather than see that money move to other states.

Pennsylvania is one state that has increased its casinos, potentially in a move to pull away the Ohio action, and West Virginia has many popular poker rooms that used to be a draw for Ohio’s rounders. Add in Indiana and Michigan and you can see that the competition for casino action in the Midwest is quite strong.

Wartenberg states that, even with the reduction in the number of slot machines, the Hollywood Casino would still have the largest number of slot machines in the state. With the expansion of the poker room – and perhaps the possibility of having larger cash games and tournaments in mind – the Hollywood Casino Columbus might be setting a “new normal” when it comes to the world of casinos.

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