Newest Kansas casino doing test run for regulators

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas gaming officials kept a close eye Monday on how staff at the state's newest casino operated games handled money and performed security procedures four days ahead of the facility's official opening.

The $368 million Hollywood Casino is scheduled to open Friday. The Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission required a run-through in advance with real money so regulators can make sure everything is operating properly.

"It's really neat to see 1,000 faces coming to work, a majority who are working in a casino for the first time," General Manager Bob Sheldon said Monday.

Sheldon, who spent much of his day shaking hands with VIPs, mingling with his new employees and talking to media outlets, said one of the biggest differences between his facility and those on the other side of the state line — other than the 1930s art-deco theme and huge, high-tech video boards — is that all of the restaurants are located inside the casino, rather than outside the gambling floor.

The casino project was finished ahead of schedule and under budget because of the mild weather, he said, adding that the second phase of the project, including a hotel and retail space, was still in the discussion stage.

Also unresolved is how to handle race days at the adjacent Kansas Speedway, because there's only one lounge area with a view of the track.

The casino is a joint venture of International Speedway Corp., which owns the speedway, and Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., which also owns the Argosy casino in Kansas City, Mo. State approval of the project resulted in a second Sprint Cup NASCAR race at the Kansas City, Kan., track.

Sheldon said people won't be able to camp out in the lounge area, which overlooks Turn 2, to watch races, but they will be able to get a glimpse at them from there. Another possibility is renting the lounge out on race days, he said.

Bill McCarthy, 77, a Kansas City, Mo., resident who goes to local casinos with his wife two to three times a week, said Hollywood Casino has more of a Las Vegas feel than its counterparts in Missouri.

"It's nicer looking than any of the casinos in Kansas City, Mo.," he said.

McCarthy, a retired engineer, said he and his wife do most of their gambling at Ameristar Casino because of its wide-open layout and "that's where she can win." While his visit to Hollywood Casino hasn't persuaded him to abandon the Missouri gambling facilities, he was impressed with the poker room and figured he would come out sometime to play cards.

Hollywood Casino is the third state-owned facility to open since the Kansas Legislature approved four casinos in 2007. Boot Hill Casino opened in Dodge City in 2009, and the Kansas Star Casino opened last month near Mulvane. The fourth casino spot, in southeast Kansas, hasn't been filled as developers are leery of competition with a fairly new tribal casino just over the border in Oklahoma.

When the project was presented to the Kansas Lottery during the application process, consultants said it would generate $203 million in gambling revenue in its first year of operation. A minimum of 22 percent of the gross revenue will go to the state, while an additional 5 percent will go to Wyandotte County government and a fund to combat compulsive gambling.

Sheldon declined to speculate about whether the casino is capable of bringing in that $203 million in its first year.

Proceeds from Monday's demonstration will go to Sunflower House, an area charity that works to protect children from physical and sexual abuse.

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