WILKES-BARRE – About 100 gamblers, some standing for hours in a foggy drizzle, waited in line Tuesday morning for Pennsylvania’s first slot-machine parlor to open to the public – more than two years after lawmakers authorized gambling to raise money for property tax relief.
The Mohegan Indian tribe of Connecticut spent $70 million on a nicely appointed but no-frills slots parlor that includes two gambling floors with nearly 1,100 machines, a bar, and a food court with three restaurants.
“I think everybody is a little nervous but also very excited,” said Robert Soper, chief executive officer of the new Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. “It was never our goal – and frankly it was never that important to us – to open first, but certainly we are going to celebrate the fact.”
While the building can’t measure up to the glitz and glamor of gambling palaces in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, N.J., it doesn’t have to. Thousands are expected to show up Tuesday, lured by the novelty and convenience of all-hours legalized gambling in Pennsylvania.
Jean Ruddy, a retiree from nearby Scranton, was in line with her husband, Tom. An avid slots player who visits Atlantic City about once a month, Ruddy said she was looking forward to having a slots casino so close to home.
She hoped that the machines might be a little more generous on their first day. “If I’m doing well, I’ll come quite a bit,” she said.
Once inside, gamblers will try their luck at video gambling games such as Pocono Pennies, Lucky Lemmings and Triple Stars, plunking down anywhere from a penny to $25 per spin as scantily-clad cocktail waitresses serve up drinks and beefy bouncers in black suits and T-shirts maintain order.
Although Gov. Ed Rendell hailed the casino opening as an important first step in delivering property-tax relief to Pennsylvanians, casino opponents forecast an increase in crime and other social ills.
CasinoFreePa, an anti-gambling group, asked state Attorney General Tom Corbett on Monday to prevent Mohegan Sun and other Pennsylvania casinos from opening until his office investigates whether slot machines comply with fraud and consumer protection laws.
Dianne M. Berlin, the group’s leader, predicted a host of negative consequences for areas of the state with casinos: “Crime, bankruptcies, divorce, people embezzling from their employers” to support their gambling addictions.
“I have story after story after story of real people who would not have done the things they did, but gambling became very convenient for them,” she said. “Convenience gambling is the worst gambling.”
Corbett’s spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the office would investigate any consumer complaints but that it is the responsibility of gambling regulators and state police to make sure the slot machines are working properly.
The tribe, which operates a gigantic casino in Connecticut and paid $280 million for Pocono Downs in 2004, plans a second phase of development that will nearly double the number of slot machines and add retail shops, a nightclub and other amenities.
When fully operational with 2,000 machines, the slots parlor projects it will gross $230 per machine, per day, for total annual revenues of $167.9 million.
The state plans to use gambling revenues to cut taxes for homeowners and workers who pay Philadelphia’s wage tax, fatten horse-racing purses, and support a rent rebate program for senior citizens.
“We have a brand-new industry in Pennsylvania,” said gubernatorial spokeswoman Kate Philips, “and the value of it will be exceedingly evident over the coming months as people begin to get jobs in the gaming industry and over the coming years as they begin to see their property taxes reduced dramatically.”