Hollywood Casino Perryville, Maryland's oldest, plans fifth anniversary celebration during September

Hollywood Casino is one of Perryville's largest employers, contributes about $1 million to town each year

Hollywood Casino Perryville will celebrate during September five years of being what its general manager calls "your neighborhood bar of a casino."

"We are your neighborhood casino," General Manager Matt Heiskell said Wednesday. "It's a safe, comfortable, friendly place where people know your name, you get to know the employees when you come in here."

Hollywood Casino, the first casino in Maryland, opened to the public Sept. 27, 2010. It was built on property off Route 222, just north of the interchange with I-95 and about three miles north of the center of Perryville.

"We're thrilled to be able to celebrate five years and to be able to celebrate Maryland's first casino," Heiskell said.

The casino is owned by Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc., of Wyomissing, Pa. The company is a subsidiary of Penn National Gaming Inc.. The company, which is a real estate investment trust, was spun off from Penn National Gaming on Nov. 1, 2013, according to its website.

The Hollywood-themed casino only had slots when it opened; table games were added in early 2013.

Both were firsts for Maryland, which had allowed slots from 1943 until the 1960s, when they were outlawed. Voters approved the revival of slots at up to five locations in 2008, and Hollywood Casino Perryville was the first to open with them. Table games and poker were approved in a 2012 referendum, and Hollywood Casino also was first to offer them.

The casino includes 34,000 square feet dedicated to gaming, 850 slot machines, 10 poker tables and 12 table games such as blackjack, craps and roulette. It also has eating establishments such as the Celebrity Bar & Grill and the Extras Cafe, a gift shop and a bar.

Heiskell said the operators are investing funds to build a space on the property for private dining, parties and daytime meetings, and they are investing about $500,000 to build a "monument" sign along Route 222.

He said the sign would improve the casino's visibility from the road and be used to market events.

"We're proud of how the business has progressed, and we're proud of what we've been able to bring to the community and Cecil County and Perryville, based on how the business has performed over time," Heiskell said.

A media event to kick off the fifth anniversary celebration was held Aug. 27.

To commemorate the casino's fifth anniversary, community events and meal, drink and gaming promotions are scheduled throughout September. Patrons can make donations to Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, and the casino will match it with a Free SlotPlay credit of up to $100 on a donor's Club Hollywood account.

Heiskell said patrons can play to win up to $100,000 in cash prizes.

"We haven't offered a chance to win a cash prize like that before," he said regarding the size of the pot.

Although Hollywood Casino was the only casino in Maryland when it opened five years ago, competitors quickly sprung up throughout the state.

Hollywood is now one of five such establishments, including Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, Maryland Live Casino in Anne Arundel County, the Casino at Ocean Downs in Worcester County and Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Western Maryland.

The most recent opening was of Horseshoe Casino in August 2014. A sixth casino, approved by voters in 2012 and licensed to MGM in 2013, is under construction at National Harbor in Prince George's County and is expected to open in the latter half of 2016.

The five existing casinos generated $98.9 million in gross gaming revenue during July, of which Hollywood Casino had $6.9 million, according to the Maryland Gaming website.

Hollywood Casino's revenue decreased by 8.1 percent compared to the same period a year ago, when the establishment generated $7.5 million.

The casino has paid out more than $84.2 million in winnings since it opened, according to a news release by its owner.

Casino operators have asked the state to reduce the current required average payout from 90 to 95 percent of the money bet on slot machines to 85 percent, which would allow the casinos to keep more revenue.

State regulators have recommended average payout percentage be shifted from 87 to 95 percent, The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday. That would give the casino operators more flexibility, but not all they sought.

Heiskell said Hollywood Casino was built with the understanding that competing casinos would be built in Maryland.

"The property was built with the understanding that it wouldn't be a monopoly forever," he said.

About 340 people work at the casino, and Heiskell said about 75 percent of the workforce lives in Cecil and Harford counties.

He said Hollywood Casino competes by being a neighborhood establishment, one where patrons and employees know each other.

"It is very much your neighborhood bar of a casino in terms of knowing everybody here, and that's what makes it a really friendly and special place for a lot of people," he said.

Maryland casinos are required to support the surrounding communities, and Perryville Mayor James Eberhardt said Hollywood Casino contributes 5 percent of its total annual earnings to the community.

Eberhardt said Cecil County receives two thirds of that 5 percent and Perryville gets the remaining third, which means about $1 million comes to the town each year.

The mayor said the money has been used to hire two additional police officers, as well as to fund grants for residents to improve their homes, businesses to improve their facades and to support local nonprofits' programs.

"We pass that money along, if you will, to improve the community in a number of different ways," Eberhardt said.

The mayor also noted the casino is one of the largest employers in Perryville.

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