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Hidden changes make track more efficient

July 18, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

What patrons won't be able to see in the $54 million expansion of Charles Town Races and Slots is almost as impressive as what they will see.

The project represents an extensive transformation of how the thoroughbred racetrack operates.

It's all in the name of efficiency and neatness, designed to give the patron the utmost in service, the track's top official said during a recent tour.

Under the 75,000-square-foot Slot City gaming area being built, a complex of rooms will be used for food, beverage and liquor storage, and a cafeteria and changing room for the track's roughly 1,000 employees, according to track president Jim Buchanan.

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When bars are stocked at the track now, employees have to bring bottles of liquor from a storage room, Buchanan said.

Once the expansion is complete, liquor will be delivered to the track in large containers. The containers will be placed in the beverage storage room under Slot City and a system of hoses will automatically dispense liquor to the track's nine lounges, Buchanan said.

The same goes for soda dispensing, he said.

"You don't have bottles upstairs. All your soda and stuff will be out of guns. They're up there just hitting buttons," Buchanan said.

Shipments of food and beverages will arrive at the track at a newly completed dock under Slot City, saving workers from having to haul the items down hallways as they do currently.

When food is needed in kitchens upstairs, it will be placed on elevators in the basement area and sent up, Buchanan said.

Employees will enter through the dock area, never to be seen by patrons inside.

Each employee will be assigned a uniform bag and a corresponding number. After employees punch their time card, they will spin an electric carousel until their uniform bag comes around, Buchanan said.

Then it is on to the changing room, a bite to eat in the cafeteria and up the elevator to work, Buchanan said.

It seems there is efficiency at every step in the complex.

Soap dispensers in the bathrooms are not refilled individually, but are instead constantly fed through a system of soap lines behind the wall.

Patrons will never run into employees restocking the gift shop because the merchandise will be fed into the shop through a back wall, Buchanan said.

The part of the expansion that patrons will see is done in a style that has become commonplace at the track.

At Slot City, where 500 slot machines will be installed, patrons will roam through a streetscape scene and play slots in different buildings that have a Western town theme. The streetscape is coming to life as workers finish brick facades on some of the buildings and put dormers on others.

A new lounge taking shape nearby will feature a large-screen television and an elevated stage for live musical acts.

A food court will offer Mexican, Asian, American and Italian cuisines as well as a creamery that will sell dessert coffees and other sweet treats, Buchanan said.

"The biggest complaint we'll have when we're done is, 'I can't find my wife,''' Buchanan said.

Slot City is expected to open as early as September.

The expansion is an effort to serve growing numbers of patrons who are flocking to the track to play slot machines and enjoy live thoroughbred racing, officials have said.

"When we acquired Charles Town in 1997, it was our goal to re-establish the operations as an outstanding thoroughbred racetrack facility, a quality entertainment center and an economic contributor to the region," said Peter M. Carlino, chief executive officer of Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., the owner of the facility.

"Charles Town today is a premier regional entertainment center with meaningful prospects for continued growth," Carlino said.

Before the track was given approval from the state Lottery Commission in February to add another 1,500 slot machines, it was not unusual for three or four people to be waiting in line behind a machine waiting to play, local officials said.

The slot machine expansion approved by the lottery commission will allow the track, which currently has 2,587 machines, to have 3,500 machines.

The track had 2,000 machines before adding 587 to a new gaming area next to Slot City. The new gaming area opened along with a new 1,500-space parking garage July 1.

The remaining 913 machines that will bring the track up to the 3,500-machine limit will be added in another new 40,000-square-foot gaming facility that should be ready sometime next year, Buchanan said.

To build the parking garage, the new gaming facilities and a planned 257-room hotel, the track had to get permission from the Jefferson County Zoning Board of Appeals because the plans exceeded the county's 40-foot building height restriction.

The parking garage is 63 feet tall and the gaming facility is 58 feet tall. Construction on the hotel, which will be 87 feet high, is expected to begin next year.

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