Expanded Meadows draws crowds, provides jobs
Workers at the permanent Meadows Casino move about the 3,200-plus video slot machines before opening the doors for a test outing for charity Monday.
The expanded Meadows Casino now employees 1,000 workers, up from 500 at the temporary facility.
Meadows Casino worker Ron Wise does last-minute polishing on a video blackjack machine.
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Christina Ealy, a 27-year-old single mother of two, is no big gambler, but the enlarged Meadows Racetrack & Casino is paying off for her.
She snared one of the 500 additional jobs that resulted from a doubling in size of The Meadows, which opened its permanent facility yesterday. When customers began streaming in before 10 a.m., Ms. Ealy was working behind the bar, as the successful end to a frustrating, six-month job search.
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"Everybody's out there looking [during the recession], so it's really hard to be the one to get the job," she said. "This here is pretty good for a single mom."
Ms. Ealy was referring to the health benefits and 401(k) plan provided to casino employees in addition to their wages and tips.
The Meadows now has 1,000 employees, and Washington County Commissioner Bracken Burns said it's a big factor in helping the county avoid some of the hard times faced elsewhere by governments, businesses and residents.
"These are family-sustaining jobs," he said before yesterday morning's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "You've got young people here as waitresses, older people coming back as security guards -- it's all good from a jobs standpoint."
Officials of Cannery Casino Resorts, which owns The Meadows, yesterday repeated praise they have frequently offered for the local workforce's quality and attitude, deeming it a big factor in their success. And the number of employees will grow again -- to as many as 2,000, they said -- if Pennsylvania allows poker, blackjack, craps and other table games in the casinos.
While the public opening was held yesterday, some 10,000 people got their first taste of the casino two days earlier, on a chilly Monday morning. That was The Meadows' "soft opening," an invitation-only test-run.
Local volunteer fire departments sent out 17,000 invitations, and the $264,000 in the casino's share of proceeds from Monday's $6 million gambling session went to those fire departments. Many people came early, up to two hours before the casino's doors opened at 11 a.m.
"She kept waiting for her invitation," Verona's Debbie Horvat said of her mother, who is a regular slots player. "Who shows up to gamble this early?"
Well, she and her mother, just to name a couple. When they and the rest of the crowd were allowed in, they found that their white invitations didn't actually grant them access to the casino floor. Instead, they had to wait a while longer to exchange their invitations for red lanyards and cards with their names on them.
That jam was nothing compared with the line of traffic snaking toward the casino. Automobiles clogged the mile-long stretch of Racetrack Road between the casino and the highway, and the queue to exit Interstate 79 was a mile-and-a-half heading north. Visitors began parking their cars illegally on Johnson Road and other side streets leading away from the casino, and police began ticketing.
Police also struggled to manage the traffic on Racetrack Road. Motorists sat in traffic for 30 minutes or more leading up to the noon hour.
But what's bad for the motorist -- lots of traffic -- is good for the casino because it translates into lots of customers, at least during the first week.
Bill Paulos, principal investor with Cannery Casino Resorts, said he hopes that the newest property in his small group of casinos will outperform the industry at large. From Las Vegas to Atlantic City, N.J., casinos are feeling the effects of the recession, though Pennsylvania's young gambling industry has remained largely immune.
"It's our largest property," Mr. Paulos said. "We've got over half-a-billion invested where we're standing right now."
Mr. Paulos also reiterated his support for an expansion to table games, such as blackjack and poker, which would require the action of the state Legislature.
"We're in competition with West Virginia," he said. The neighboring state allows table games at some of its casinos.
First Published April 16, 2009 6:29 am