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Harrah's changes bring luck to Paducah

By David Zoellerdzoeller@paducahsun.com

Plans announced by Harrah's Metropolis Casino & Hotel to move its gambling operation from the riverboat to a redesigned convention center are already bringing Paducah luck as a venue in attracting events the Illinois site will no longer be able to accommodate.

"I've picked up a couple of events since the announcement was made," said Jeff Foreman, director of operations for The Carson Center and Julian Carroll Convention Center. "I anticipate more business as we go along. I think it's going to be very good for us since we're already feeling the impact and the impact will only be greater once the (convention) hotel comes in."

Harrah's Metropolis recently received state approval to make the changes, which will involve moving the gaming operation from three floors on the riverboat to the convention center. Moving gaming into the convention center will decrease space dedicated to hosting meetings and events, according to Chad Lewis, advertising and public relations supervisor for Harrah's.

"We definitely won't be able to handle the volume (of some of the events held in the past)," said Lewis, citing the recent Lourdes Foundation 12th Annual Mardi Gras & All That Jazz fundraiser as an example. The ability to stage indoor concerts will also be affected, he added.

Mary Hammond, executive director of the Paducah Convention & Visitor's Bureau, agrees the casino changes will have a positive impact locally.

"Most of the groups they have that would not be returning are local and regional groups," she said. "I think it's very exciting for Paducah and comes at a very good time for us."

Exactly how the new gaming floor will be configured and what will be done with the riverboat are not yet known, since plans are still in the design phase, Lewis said.  According to the Illinois Gaming Board, the current casino totals 30,985 square feet. There are five levels on the riverboat. The current convention center is approximately 11,700 square feet, Lewis said. All of the gaming options available now will be included in the new design, he said. Some new amenities will also be added.

"It (the redesign) is going to give us a fresh look, and better accessibility," said Lewis. "Right now when the river goes up and down, the ramp (to the boat) goes up and down, increasing the grade in the ramp itself, making it a struggle for people with canes or in wheelchairs."

While no start date for construction has been set, work could begin in early summer with hopes of being finished at the end of the year, Lewis said. When the changes are completed, "It will be almost like opening a new facility," according to Lewis.

Something else not yet known is exactly how the casino will comply with Illinois' Riverboat Gambling Act that requires the gaming floor to be over water. "We will be in compliance with what state law says," said Lewis.

Bill Renk, director of public relations and promotions at Jumer's Casino & Hotel, said the Rock Island, Ill., casino addressed the "over water" requirement when it switched from a riverboat to a land-based operation.

"Yes, it is possible, there is water under our gaming floor," Renk said. In the case of Jumer's, water from an adjacent lake channels underneath the floor.

"I'm not sure of the engineering that is involved in it," Renk said. However it is accomplished, casino patrons are not likely to notice the change.

"The public will never know it. For all intents and purposes from their perspective ... it's just land," according to Renk.

Casinos in Illinois are seeing a decline in revenues, due in part to the addition of video lottery terminals in many local bars and establishments. Factors such as another casino in the market area, the economy in general, and the weather can also have an impact, Renk said.

Harrah's Metropolis has faced new competition since the Isle of Capri Cape Girardeau Casino opened in October of 2012. Harrah's February 2014 revenues were listed at $6,145,708. Isle of Capri Cape Girardeau revenues for the same period were $4,805,487. 

Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.

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