PERRYVILLE, Md. - That 80-mile stretch along the I-95 corridor from Bensalem, Bucks County, to Cecil County, Md., now has five casinos to lure patrons and their gambling dollars.
Hollywood Casino Perryville, Maryland's first slots parlor, joined the fray with a grand opening Thursday, unveiling 1,500 machines to a large crowd that braved the rain to get in.
Scott Rodriguez of Baltimore was pleased with what he saw.
"So far, so good. I like it," the 49-year-old warehouse-distribution technician said. "It's not Vegas, but hey, it's a lot closer, and it's a new place to check out."
Tim Wilmott, chief operating officer and president of Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming Inc., joined Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in a ribbon-cutting for the $97.5 million casino, whose doors first opened to the public Monday after trial test days last weekend.
O'Malley praised Penn National for building the slots parlor, which created 350 casino jobs, in less than two years. Maryland voters approved gambling in a November 2008 referendum.
"We are here to move the state forward and to keep [gambling] revenues from leaving our borders for Delaware and West Virginia," the governor said.
The 75,000-square-foot casino is just off the interstate's Exit 93, about 25 miles south of Delaware Park in Wilmington, 50 miles from Harrah's Chester Casino and Racetrack in Delaware County, 65 miles from SugarHouse on the Philadelphia waterfront, and 80 miles from Parx in Bensalem.
As gamblers have "more choices and [casino] locations that are closer to their homes," said gaming analyst Andrew Zarnett, of Deutsche Bank AG, "you have a dramatically more competitive landscape."
"And as the region becomes more competitive, that continues to be a negative on Atlantic City," Zarnett said, "because casinos that are competing with each other offer a variety of comps and amenities that drive traffic."
It is the jackpots that will determine whether David Buckland switches to Perryville or returns to Delaware Park, where he has been a regular.
Buckland, 66, a retired construction worker from Elkton, Md., settled in at a nickel slots machine Thursday. It looks nice, he said, but his coming back "depends on if they pay me more."
Inside, the casino's 1930s-era art deco styling mirrors other gaming venues owned and operated by Penn National, including its Hollywood Casinos in Grantville, Pa., and Charles Town, W.Va.
Large movie posters adorn the Tinseltown-themed casino. The gift shop is called Rodeo Drive, and a grab-and-go snack bar is called Extras.
Penn National president Wilmott said there was no question in his mind what this casino's chief rival would be: Delaware Park. More than 40 percent of gamblers in Delaware come from Maryland.
"We want them to stay here and gamble," Wilmott said.
Bill Fasy, president of Delaware Park, said the Baltimore customer heading north on I-95 will now find it easier to go to Perryville instead of heading into Wilmington.
"I hope they can see through the convenience gambling [to] better service and a better payout at the slot machines at our place," he said.
Baltimore-area resident Beverly Wilkins, 62, who was at Hollywood Perryville with her friend Carolyn Garcia, 61, said customer benefits would figure into how she spent her gambling dollars.
"We usually go to Atlantic City or Delaware Park, but just wanted to check this out," Garcia said.
"But we still like Atlantic City," Wilkins interjected. "They give me great comps, including hotel rooms."
Unlike the gambling halls in Atlantic City, and more recently, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the Perryville casino offers only slot machines. There are no dealer-staffed table games.
There are four other potential casino sites in Maryland, including Arundel Mills Mall in Anne Arundel County, where local residents will vote in a Nov. 2 referendum on necessary zoning changes to put a casino at the mall.
Penn National and Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. - developer of The Walk outlet mall in Atlantic City - are engaged in a dispute over whether Penn National tampered with Cordish's effort to develop a casino at Arundel Mills.
Penn National is co-owner of Laurel Park racetrack with the Maryland Jockey Club, which has financed an effort to stop the slots parlor at Arundel Mills and steer slots toward Laurel Park.
Cordish contends that Penn National wrongly involved itself in the Arundel campaign. State law prohibits any company from holding more than one slots license or interfering with another licensee. The allegations are being investigated by the Maryland Attorney General's Office.
At least one avid gambler, Beylis Correa, 33, of Jessup, Md., is pulling for the Arundel Mills casino. Though the Perryville casino is only a 40-minute drive from home, she said Arundel Mills would be even closer.
"I'm only 10 minutes from there," she said.