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New director maps strategy for Charles Town Races

May 30, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The new director of marketing at Charles Town Races says bringing in major musical acts might be one way to make the thoroughbred track more appealing and keep visiting gamblers in town longer.

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Brian Harris, who for 10 years was director of slot machine marketing for Bally's Park Place casino in Atlantic City, N.J., took over the Charles Town post earlier this month.

He said he will focus on increasing tour bus visits to the track and expanding the amount of time patrons spend at the oval.

At Bally's, Harris oversaw an expansion known as the Wild West Casino, a 70,000-square-foot facility that included 2,000 slot machines and 75 table games.

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Bally's offers other amenities, such as 19 restaurants, and the idea there was to create a casino where gamblers could stay for extended periods and have all their needs met, Harris said.

He said that will be his emphasis at Charles Town Races.

As in the late 1970s, when numerous buses carried horse racing fans to Charles Town, up to 2,000 people a month have been arriving at the track on buses ever since it received permission to have slot machines.

Harris said he thinks patrons can be encouraged to make extended visits to the area to enjoy not only the track's offerings, but tourist attractions such Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. Bringing in big-name entertainers could help, he said.

"That's how I build markets," Harris said.

The track is authorized to have 1,500 slot machines and is nearing that limit.

About 500 slot machines are being kept inside a large tent outside the track until a former indoor paddock area can be renovated to make room for the machines.

The track has generated an estimated $57.3 million in video lottery and slot machine revenue since 1998.

The track wanted to bring in a marketing director who had experience promoting slot machines, said Bill Bork Jr., who held the job before moving to Penn National Gaming Inc.'s main office in Wyomissing, Pa.

Bork is now director of parimutuel marketing for Penn National's 12 horse racing tracks and off-track betting parlors in Pennsylvania. Penn National owns Charles Town Races.

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