No prospective casino developer has been in the news more than Bill Wortman and his firm, Millennium Gaming. Wortman has been courting the town of Salem for years and recently unveiled his concept for a casino at Rockingham Park.
Wortman may have started off as a CPA but he clearly enjoys the role of casino developer that he's morphed into. A beefy man who favors a casual, open collar look, Wortman began his gaming career in 1978 at one of the iconic casinos on the Las Vegas strip:
"My first job was as financial controller at Caesar's World, then became CFO, of Caesars Palace."
At Caesar’s Palace, everything was done big.
"We did things that countries do. There was a Grand Prix of Germany, a Grand Prix of Monaco, there was a Caesar's Palace Grand Prix. It was the world center of boxing. Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali."
But Wortman left Caesar’s in the early 1980s and ultimately, with business partner Bill Paulos, formed Millennium Gaming. The two men found there was another way to make a profit in the casino business, a way that departed from the extravagant and the grandiose.
Millennium Gaming’s newest casino is The Meadows in western Pennsylvania, about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh. With some 33 hundred slot machines, it’s about the same size as what might be built in New Hampshire. It’s well appointed with plush multi-hued carpet and space-age looking light fixtures.
Sean Sullivan is the casino’s General Manager. Surrounding the table games are the slot machines.
"A little over 2,000 of our machines are penny machines. People are coming here as recreational gamblers. You can bet 4 dollars on a penny machine, but a lot of them are playing pretty light."
The Meadows does provide a high rollers room for those who want to bet larger sums but it makes sure that it appeals to a more humble clientele from the nearby counties where heavy industry once loomed large.
Beyond bringing in performers like country singer Willie Nelson, Wortman says, the casino added a bowling alley.
"They like that kind of activity, a different socioeconomic class. With the individuals, more blue collar workers. Bowling is a fun activity for them."
The Meadows pulled in about $24 million in gross revenues in April, a modest dip from last year but up from the winter months. It’s viewed generally as a success, and that performance is due in part to the lessons that Wortman and his partners honed in Las Vegas. In the early and mid-2000s, they built two casinos, not on the famous Las Vegas strip, but farther out of town.
Their target – the locals.
Gaming consultant Randy Fine says the Las Vegas locals market can be a very competitive: "They fight head to head every day." He says Millennium wins customers by giving players better odds, and giving them a good deal for their money.
"The food product: high quality, inexpensive, Italian, Mexican, great food at a great price. The entertainment: lower level acts, B and C acts, tribute bands, high variety."
Another observer of the Las Vegas scene, Anthony Curtis of the consumer guide, Las Vegas Advisor, says Millennium Gaming has come up with a signature method:
"Their bread is buttered by the less flashy, the less shiny sort of customer who doesn't need to go to a big overblown casino. They want to go somewhere they feel comfortable, where they like the people, feel they are getting a good shake."
In the eyes of the group Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, this appeal to locals raises the specter of convenience gambling, in contrast to the so-called high-end casino governor Hassan often describes.
The group notes that Millennium Gaming has seen about $175,000 in fines over the past four years at The Meadows. Wortman says that represents some 13 self-reported instances, mostly when gambling addicts or under-aged people got onto the gaming floor, a tiny fraction of the millions of visitors that he says have passed through the doors. He says he’s pleased with how the Meadows turned out and the atmosphere there is what people can expect to see if Millennium Gaming opens a casino in New Hampshire.
"That's what we do. We have that in PA and both locations in Nevada. that's our style. We believe that style works anywhere, we believe that customers want to go to a place that they will enjoy."
Wortman feels he knows how to attract customers but he also seems to be wary of the perception that he only caters to a local crowd. When he talks about the reach of a Salem casino, he first says a 25 mile radius. And then he corrects himself and says 50 miles or more.
What he’s certain about is Rockingham Park as a location is almost a clone of The Meadows -- close to a state border, near a major city, and right off an interstate. It’s a place where he’s betting the odds are very much in his favor.