Casinos race to open new digs

Detroit — In the race to open Detroit’s first permanent casino, hotel and entertainment complex, the locally owned MotorCity Casino seems to have gained the edge over its closest competitor, MGM Grand Detroit.
MotorCity Casino, owned by Marian Ilitch, will swing the doors open on its enlarged gaming space June 7. MotorCity also has moved up the date on the ribbon-cutting for its 400-room deluxe hotel to September from late in the year.

Ilitch, vice chairwoman of Ilitch Holdings and wife of Little Caesars Pizza magnate Mike Ilitch, vowed at the casino’s groundbreaking in 2005 that MotorCity would be the first of the city’s three permanent casinos up and running. The entertainment, banquet and meeting rooms in the USD 275 million complex will open in the fourth quarter.

As the towering hotels of both MotorCity and MGM became part of Detroit’s skyline, speculation has been rife about which of the multimillion-dollar permanent casino and entertainment complexes would open first.
„It’s definitely a race,“ Rhonda Cohen, chief operating officer for MotorCity Casino, said during a preview of the new gaming area Tuesday. „But we will open the hotel before MGM. We’re right on track to open the hotel in September.“

MGM has repeatedly said it plans to open its complex in the fourth quarter of 2007. MGM Grand officials did not return telephone calls Tuesday to indicate whether that timetable has changed.
The third casino, Greektown, is lagging behind the other two and isn’t expected to open until fall 2008.

Under the casino development agreements with the city of Detroit, each casino operation was required to expand its gaming floor space from 75,000 square feet in temporary facilities to 100,000 square feet in permanent locations. The development agreements also required each of them to add 400-room hotels and convention space.

MotorCity and MGM opened temporary facilities in 1999. They each hoped to have permanent structures within two to three years, but lengthy court cases objecting to the awarding of the contracts bogged down the process. Greektown opened in 2000.

MGM is building its USD 765 million complex from the ground up on a new site surrounded by the Lodge Freeway, Interstate 75, Third Street and Bagley. The casino plans to sell its temporary site at Third and Abbott.
Both MotorCity and Greektown are building from their temporary sites. In MotorCity’s case, expanding its temporary casino in an old Wonder Bread factory at Grand River Avenue and the Lodge Freeway has sped up the construction process.

Plenty of ‚bells, whistles‘

An automotive theme pervades MotorCity’s new gaming space, with the décor from wallpaper to hubcaps on the walls to photos and paintings paying homage to Detroit’s automotive history.
The gaming area also boasts state-of-the-art audio, video and colorful light systems. The facility will have two radio broadcast booths — one for outside radio shows to broadcast live and the other for a MotorCity V-J to handle live video and audio shows.

„We’re employing some radically new technology,“ said Gregg Solomon, MotorCity’s chief executive officer. „I’m proud to say that this casino will have many, many firsts in the casino industry.“
He said the sound technology is the best at any casino in the country. The fully digital sound system has much sharper bass and treble tones. Subwoofers will be installed in each slot machine that will enable music levels to be lower without losing sound quality.

Solomon said lights are coordinated with audio. Videos can be shown on wavy ceilings that bring something new to the casino.

Cohen said the mixture of old with new will help attract and keep gamblers in the casino.

„Atmosphere does bring people in,“ Cohen said. „All these bells and whistles just add to the entertainment value.“

Marian Ilitch had a big smile on her face Tuesday as she talked about the MotorCity Casino.

„I’m extremely excited about this,“ she said. „We all had visions and it came true and then some. I’m very proud it is locally owned. It’s important to rebuild Detroit and put our dollars back into the community.“
MotorCity put a sales team in place recently to sell hotel rooms and is pursuing small- to medium-size conventions.

„We’re lining up rooms for the 2008 North American International Auto Show in January,“ Cohen said. „We’re also looking at regional conventions because we think we can steal them away from wherever they are going right now.“

Conventions that currently book in Chicago are likely to consider Detroit because of the new MotorCity facility and the lower hotel and meeting costs, Cohen said.

Greektown to open next year

Greektown Casino struggled to get its permanent casino under construction and fell months behind in trying to get a clear title to a parking garage the city sold them for construction of a new hotel and a 3,000-car parking structure.

Roger Martin, a spokesman for Greektown, said the new parking structure will be open by November, but the expanded gaming area and the hotel are not expected to open until September 2008.
„Everything is right on schedule and within the budget,“ Martin said.