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Columbus Casino Expected to be Ready in 2012

Sometime next year bulldozers and construction crews likely will be working on the site of Columbus's future casino. Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment last night giving the green light for casinos in four Ohio cities. WOSU's Mandie Trimble reports on what's next.

A front loader pushes soil near an abandoned building on Nationwide Boulevard near the site where Columbus's casino will be located.

The sound of trucks beeping will likely be one of many construction noises coming from the area in the years ahead as Penn National Gaming builds its casino. For now, thought, the noise and the work is minimal and not related to the casino.

The casino, which will be called Hollywood Casino, will be located on the western edge of the arena district - near Columbus Buggyworks.

Tim Wilmott is Penn National's President and Chief Operating Officer. Wilmott said Columbus's casino will be similar to the one in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It's expected to be about 300,000 square feet.

"It will have slot machines, poker room, table games, a number of restaurants. The outside really is going to be developed in conjunction with the community here to make sure it fits the architecture and fabric of the city of Columbus," Wilmott said.

While the casino measure passed overwhelmingly throughout the state, Franklin County voters largely opposed it. Some fear it will bring unsavory activities to the community as well as detract business from restaurants near the casino.

It's just before lunchtime and a Mongolian Barbeque worker wipes of menus. The restaurant's manager Mark Novak said he does not think the casino will compete directly with his casual restaurant. But he's somewhat concerned.

"It might take away some potential convention business. But other than that anything down here is beneficial to help us out. It will draw more attention to the arena," Novak said.

Wilmott said Penn National plans to work with the Arena District's restaurant community. And he rejected the idea that casinos want to keep visitors inside their walls. Wilmott argued restaurants that neighbor casinos do very well.

"I would fully expect them to see increased business levels. And we also have to remember that we're going to be creating 2,000 jobs and our employees here will frequent establishments in the area as well," Wilmott said. But Wilmott declined to promise not to offer food discounts in the casino. He said the Columbus casino has to remain competitive with surrounding states' casinos.

"Customers who have offers and marketing affinity cards with neighboring casinos like in West Virginia so we'll be offering complimentaries based on their level of play and based on what the customer wants and many cases that is food," he said.

Another group that is watching the casino project closely is the downtown local hotel industry. Many casinos projects include a hotel but Wilmott said there are no plans to build one right away.

"We want to work with the local hoteliers to help improve their occupancy rate and use them as virtual hotel rooms to take care of our customers," Wilmott said.

The City of Columbus and Franklin County already are building a new 500 room Hilton hotel adjacent to the Columbus Convention Center. Experience Columbus's President and CEO Paul Astleford doubts downtown could support a casino hotel.

"It wouldn't be prudent to put another hotel here in the downtown that wasn't directly related to building the national tradeshow, convention and business meeting market for our community," Astleford said.

No one could say for sure when Penn National will break ground. Construction will likely begin in 2010 with an expected completion date of 2012.