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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Meadows Racetrack & Casino

4/14/2009 3:33 AMEmail this article  • Print this article  

Media tour unveils casino's amenities
This article has been read 1568 times.

By Michael Bradwell, Business editor

MEADOW LANDS - With more than 3,700 slot machines and 350,000 square feet of space, The Meadows Racetrack & Casino is about to open what will be one of the largest casinos on the East Coast.

But Bill Paulos, a principal of Las Vegas-based Cannery Casino Resorts, which owns The Meadows, said Monday that the $175 million project, which is scheduled to open to the public on Wednesday, is much more than a gambling hall.

During a 90-minute tour for media members Monday morning, Paulos said the new venue, with everything from harness racing to eight different restaurants, a soon-to-open 24-lane bowling alley and plans to offer live entertainment from an outdoor stage, is destined to become a major entertainment center for the region.

"This is an entertainment destination," said Paulos, who also announced Monday that The Meadows will add a hotel to the site within the next couple of years.

Judging from the line of people that began forming before 10 a.m. for an 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. test run, many were anxious to see the improvements the permanent casino was expected to offer over the temporary casino that opened in June 2007 and closed early Monday.

"More restrooms, more restaurants," was the wish of Janet Jones of Allenport, who was waiting outside with Kathy Lassooy, also of Allenport, and Danielle Mitchell of Charleroi.

They were among the more than 10,000 people who were invited to try out the new facilities in advance of Wednesday's 10 a.m. opening. Monday's proceeds from the test run were to be donated to local fire departments.

The turnout jammed Interstate 79, Route 19 and Racetrack Road from shortly after 11 a.m. through early afternoon.

Meadows spokesman David La Torre said about 1:50 p.m. that many invitees who were turned away earlier by police were coming back to the casino.

"The bottom line is that this is a historical day for The Meadows, and a lot of people want to be part of it," La Torre said.

Mark Ceppaglia, senior project manager for LP Ciminelli of Buffalo, N.Y., which has spent the past 18 months constructing the new casino, said the building, which offers a variety of architectural highlights and focuses on connecting the casino with The Meadows tradition of harness racing, will open with about 3,200 machines, adding another 500 to 600 in May when a second portion of the casino will open. He also showed a new high-limit area with 80 machines just off the main casino floor.

Also coming online Wednesday will be eight restaurants, including the 452-seat Terrace Café, featuring traditional American Cuisine and local specialties; a 327-seat food court with five different mini restaurants; and the 200-seat Bistecca, an upscale steakhouse on the second level that features hand-cut steaks, authentic Italian specialties and seafood. In the wagering area is Delvins, named after Meadows founder Delvin Miller, featuring sandwiches and drinks.

Also opening is the 94-seat Pacers, a main bar that sits just off the center of the casino floor. Adjacent to the bar is a glass-enclosed elevator that will take people upstairs to Bistecca and numerous VIP areas that offer panoramic views of the racetrack.

Paulos said the casino will have four private VIP suites for parties of up to 200 people. It also will have eight private dining areas for receptions and parties of up to 40 people. The areas will be catered by Bistecca or the Terrace Café.

Opening in May will be a 24-lane bowling alley just off the wagering area on the ground floor. Paulos said the bowling area will include two "VIP lanes" that can be reserved for bowling parties.

The second phase of the casino also will usher in the May opening of a 400-square-foot stage with an entertainment lounge, with lighting and sound that will feature local and regional live entertainment. Paulos also said Monday that The Meadows plans to offer occasional live outdoor entertainment from a portable stage that can be placed directly across from the new grandstand in front of the track's finish-line tote board on days when races aren't running.

Paulos noted that all of the food areas offer views of the racetrack, so that whenever anyone wants to take a break from playing slot machines, they can view racing action. The Meadows is reopening the grandstand after almost two years of construction and will host more than 200 days of live harness racing throughout the year.

Also new to the permanent casino is the addition of 60 electronic blackjack and three-card poker table seats, which Meadows management said earlier was being introduced in lieu of live table games, which are not permitted in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, who toured the venue with reporters on Monday, said legislation is being written by the staff of state Rep. Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg. Solobay noted that Gov. Ed Rendell has asked that a table games bill be passed before he leaves office in 2010.

The Meadows, which will have about 800 employees with the opening of the new casino, said Monday that to date, in addition to the $175 million outlay for the new casino, it has invested more than $235 million in the community. According to a breakout, the investment includes $105.5 million in property tax relief for Pennsylvania homeowners; $50 million in state government fees; $37.2 million in racehorse community investment; $15.5 million in local government project development; $15.5 million in regional tourism promotion; and $12 million in highway improvements.