|By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh
Post-GazetteMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 11, 2009--It didn't take long for the Rivers Casino to produce a big payoff.
The North Shore slots venue generated $1.285 million in gross terminal revenue, or the amount gamblers lost, on $14 million in wagers in the first 18 hours of operating after its noon opening Sunday.
It ranked as the third-highest opening-day haul among the state's nine stand-alone and racetrack casinos, behind the Sands Bethlehem's $1.62 million in May and The Meadows' $1.48 million in April.
Of the $1.285 million, 55 percent, or $706,786, went to the state for taxes. Of that amount, $51,403 will be split by the city and the county as the local share. The casino gets $578,280. Of the $14 million bet, nearly $12.69 million, or 90.6 percent, was returned to players in winnings.
George Matta, the Rivers director of business development and community relations, said the casino was "extremely satisfied" with the numbers. They represent the amount wagered and the revenue generated from noon Sunday to 6 a.m. yesterday.
"We were very happy with our first day. We had a lot of people there. We'll see if we can keep it up," Rivers Chief Executive Officer Greg Carlin said.
Mr. Matta noted the casino intentionally opened on a Sunday in an effort to better manage the crowd. But that didn't prevent thousands from jamming the complex, nearly filling the 3,800-space parking garage and creating long lines inside the casino. At times, it was difficult to find an open slot machine.
Some expect the Pittsburgh casino to be the top money maker in the state. That it lagged behind two others in opening-day revenues did not concern Rivers officials.
"We believe, again, that we're going to do very, very well in the long term," Mr. Matta said. "As we progress here, we will continue to be one of the top casinos in Pennsylvania."
While the noontime crowds at the casino were far thinner yesterday than they were the day before, Rivers officials are expecting big turnouts on Thursday, when the Steelers play their first preseason game at nearby Heinz Field and for the weekend.
"None of the other casinos in Pennsylvania are close to a [professional] athletic facility," Mr. Matta said. "We're looking for Thursday night to be a very good night going into a very good weekend."
State Gaming Control Board spokesman Richard McGarvey said it's difficult to compare first-day numbers because Pennsylvania's stand-alone and racetrack casinos have opened at different times on different days.
Sands Bethlehem, for example, opened on a Friday, typically one of the busiest days for a casino. When The Meadows in Washington County opened its permanent casino in April, it already had a "mature customer base" because its temporary venue had been operating for nearly two years, Mr. McGarvey said.
"One thing that will be watched closely is whether the Pittsburgh casino cuts into The Meadows' business. For the first weekend at least, that did not appear to be the case," Meadows spokesman David LaTorre said.
"Foot traffic in and out of the casino all weekend was very consistent with past weekends," he said. "We're certainly pleased by the response."
Meanwhile, the Rivers casino's two test nights last week raised $137,184 to be divided among four charities -- the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County World War II Memorial and Allegheny General Hospital.
In all, $3.68 million was wagered those two nights. The casino's take was $304,852, with 55 percent of that going to the state. The rest went to the charities.
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