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Track expects profit boom with new slots

October 05, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A circus-style tent with 500 new slot machines will open by January at Charles Town Races, a track spokesman said Tuesday.

The new slots will be housed in a tent-like structure that will serve as a temporary gaming room until renovations are completed on an indoor paddock area at the track, Charles Town Races Marketing Director Bill Bork Jr., said.

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The 220-foot-long tent, which is being erected on a concrete pad outside the track complex, will house the new slots, a cashier cage, a "players' club" booth and food kiosks, Bork said.

The tent will be taken down when the new slot room is finished in spring 2000, Bork said.

Charles Town Races received final approval for the new slot machines Sept. 29 after a two-hour public hearing in front of the West Virginia Lottery Commission.

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The addition of 500 slots to the track's current stable of 935 machines will more than double revenues at Charles Town Races, Track President James Buchanan predicted at last week's hearing in Charles Town.

The track's gross revenues currently top $20 million but the new machines are expected to boost the total to $52 million a year, Buchanan said.

"The demand for real slots is far greater than the demand for video machines," Bork said.

With weekend attendance at the track already maxed out, Bork said Charles Town will use the 500 new slots to draw more weekday business by offering motor coach packages from Baltimore and Washington.

The race tracks at Delaware Park in Wilmington, Del., and Dover Downs, in Dover, Del., each have about 2,000 slot machines, Bork said.

Charles Town Races hopes that by offering better services and products it can draw a larger piece of the market share, Bork said.

Monthly attendance at the track averages between 70,000 and 75,000, and the additional slots are expected to boost those numbers, Bork said.

"The battle is for more customers, not more machines," Bork said.

The "coin-drop" slot machines give players a better feel about winning and are expected to draw more gamers, Bork said.

"It's a comfort thing," Bork said.

A state law passed in March gave the track permission to convert video lottery machines to coin-drop machines. Plans call for the track to convert most of its video lottery machines to slot machines.

Payouts on progressive slots can reach as high as $72,000, Bork said.

Bork declined to comment on how much money the track is spending to add the new slots and to renovate the paddock.

The new slots are also a key part of the track's plans to widen its appeal as an entertainment complex, Bork said.

Future plans call for the construction of a new hotel at the track and bringing in more musical acts, stage shows and comedians who have national appeal, Bork said.

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