Top concerns at new casino: parking, traffic

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Luck may be a lady, but she doesn't like to drive -- or pay to park.

At least that's what some South Hills residents had to say about their plans to visit the new Rivers Casino, which opens Sunday.

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The long-awaited Rivers Casino on the North Shore opens its doors at noon to slots players, who eventually could make the facility the No. 1 gambling den in Pennsylvania.

The opulent new 24/7 casino opens with 3,000 slot machines, the maximum immediately allowable by law. Casino officials predict Rivers will take in more than $400 million -- the equivalent of what players lose -- during its first 12 months of operation.

About 2.4 million people of gambling age live within a 50-mile radius of the new casino, and gaming officials say a typical visitor to such a casino drops about $60.

A casual sampling found that people here are interested in, even happy about, the newest addition to the North Shore scene. Many told us that despite the sour economy they will try their luck at the new casino. But, even more than money, some seemed concerned about the city's legendary traffic jams and the fact that visitors will have to pay to park at the Rivers Casino.

Those locals are keeping an allegiance to the thriving Meadows Racetrack & Casino, about one-half hour south in North Strabane, citing its easier drive and free parking.

We asked some residents of the South Hills if they will be among the early visitors to the Rivers.

Retired steelworker John Dindak said he will visit but only after "the crowds die down."

Mr. Dindak, 81, mayor of West Homestead, said he goes to The Meadows about once every three weeks.

"I'm there in 30 minutes from the Parkway to [Interstate] 79. I don't know what driving and traffic to the North Side will be like," he said.

Likewise, Frank Haley, of Bethel Park, will bide his time and is concerned about traffic.

"I won't go the first few days because it will be too crowded, and I carry a portable oxygen tank," said Mr. Haley, 88, a retired U.S. Postal carrier.

"It's easier to go to The Meadows from where I live and there is less traffic. I used to go to the casinos in Atlantic City," he said. "I like casinos for the atmosphere, especially when those bills ring for a win."

Bernie Nero, 55, is new to the area; the retired musician just moved to Bethel Park. The Meadows was on his new "things to do around Pittsburgh" list, but he has yet to go.

Now, all the hype has him ready for a night -- or nights -- out trying his luck at the slots.

"My wife and I will go for a fun evening out at both casinos," he said.

George Herwig, 86, of West Mifflin, doesn't gamble but is anxious to "see the new development on the river."

"From what I've seen, it's going to add to the North Shore look," said Mr. Herwig, a retired motor coach operator.

"I think it will attract tourists and people from surrounding counties who would otherwise go to Wheeling or Atlantic City to gamble. People I know who work at Station Square are looking forward to its helping their businesses by drawing people in," he said.

Retiree Peggy Coyne Krest, 77, of Whitehall, sees no reason to switch her allegiance to the North Shore. "I'm happy at The Meadows, where I go once a month. I like the easy drive on Route 19, the convenient, free parking. And The Meadows is bigger."

The expanded Meadows, which opened in April, has 3,747 slot machines.

"If I'm going to go to a casino, it will be The Meadows," said Mary Kay Lewandowski, of Castle Shannon.

"First, you don't have to pay for parking. Second, it's easier to get to from here with less traffic. Third, The Meadows has more slot machines," said Ms. Lewandowski, 52, owner of Pittsburgh Sports Bar.

Ed Moeller, of Baldwin Borough, said he is "not a slots person."

"I've been to casinos because my wife likes them, but I usually end up sitting in the restaurants," said Mr. Moeller, 48, an accounts receivable administrator.

For some, the economy is an issue.

"I would like to go, but financially I don't know," said Mildred Fisher, 75, of Baldwin Borough. "We've been to casinos in Niagara Falls and Atlantic City, but not the ones in our own backyard."

Julie Cameron, 37, of Dormont, that town's recreation director, is also on the fence.

"I doubt I'll be going. I have a 3-year-old, and a 5-year-old and don't go out at night too much," she said.

George Branick, 79, of McKeesport, a retired steelworker isn't worried about parking or traffic or anything connected to a casino.

"I don't gamble. My money is too important to me," Mr. Branick said.

Freelance writer Margaret Smykla contributed to this report. Virginia Kopas Joe can be reached in care of .


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