Dover Downs Hotel & Casino officials hope NASCAR enthusiasts bring more revenue to table games.
The chefs at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino are preparing to serve 12,000 chicken wings, 600 pounds of filet mignon, 2,500 pounds of shrimp and 750 pounds of snack mix to hungry race fans in the trackside skyboxes at this weekend’s Nationwide and Sprint Cup NASCAR events.
But Dover Downs executives hope those massive numbers will pale in comparison to the profits they’ll make from newly established table games and the second year of NFL parlay betting on the casino floor during the facility’s busiest weekend of the year.
Table games opened in June at Dover Downs, but with the recession showing little signs of abating and a regional shortage of dealers brought on by new tables at Pennsylvania casinos, profits from table games have been sluggish.
Ed Sutor, Dover Downs CEO, reported that August revenues were down from the same time last year, and September’s figures so far haven’t looked much better.
Race weekend, he said, could help salvage the casino’s summer.
“This will be the first time we’ll have table games and I’m expecting our tables to be full,” Sutor said. “We’re going to be scheduling all of our staff completely for that weekend; every day of race weekend will be like Saturday for us and hopefully we’ll set records.”
Sports betting is stronger already this year than it was last fall when it debuted, and Sutor expects to take a lot of parlay cards before Sunday’s games.
“Last year in September when the NASCAR races were held, we didn’t have a full [sports betting] product up,” he said. “The first weekend of sports betting here doubled [over last year], more people are used to it now.”
Dover Downs also is preparing to make more money on food and beverage, sales of which have grown with the increased foot traffic brought in by tables and sports betting.
Fred Bohn is in charge of in-house catering for the casino and the skyboxes overlooking the NASCAR track.
His operation is all hands on deck during every race, but while he normally focuses all his energy on feeding those in the skyboxes, he’s preparing for more demand inside the casino itself this year.
“The poker room and the table games definitely have added an uptick to the [food and beverage] business. We’ve opened our Garden Cafe for 24-hour service on Friday and Saturday,” he said. “It’s just a little bit busier all around, it’s been great.”
Bohn said even though NASCAR fans are known for the self-contained tailgate feasts they stage in the sprawling lots surrounding the track, he expects sports betting and tables will draw gamblers to in-casino restaurants, specifically the bar adjacent to the sports book and Frankie’s, Dover Downs’ casual Italian eatery.
No matter if it comes from cards or cocktails and food, Dover Downs’ success over the weekend will hinge on the overlapping demographics of NASCAR, table games and sports betting.
All three generally appeal to men in their 30s, a group Dover Downs and other casinos have been trying to recruit to supplement the older, female crowd attracted to slot machine play.
Using sports betting and tables to grab a bigger piece of that market also is critical because of what happens to Dover’s regular slots clientele when the races are in town.
“The NASCAR parking and traffic issue keeps a lot of our players away, Harrington [Raceway and Casino] has a great weekend when we have a NASCAR race, however now with table games we’ll actually get some NASCAR people playing,” Sutor said. “Getting around Dover on race weekend is a headache; our regular slot players don’t come near Dover.”
The state officials who keep track of how much tax revenue Dover Downs brings in from tables, sports betting and slots alike say they’re expecting big things, too.
“You’ve got give credit to Dover Downs, it used to be that was their worst weekend of the year, the regulars don’t want to fight the traffic and the demographic of the race fan was not somebody to come in and play slots,” said Finance Secretary Tom Cook. “By diversifying our offerings here, we actually are catering more to that race fan demographic. I know they’ll do everything they can to promote and make the race fans aware of these offerings.”
Sutor said the casino is stepping up promotions among race attendees, particularly the tailgating legions.
“There’s tens of thousands of people staying in campers, each one of them gets marketing material during the race itself. We’re on the program on the back cover,” he said.
And, Sutor added, it doesn’t hurt that the only ATMs are located inside the casino.
Even with all the marketing materials Dover Downs can muster, Sutor said the best thing he can hope for to get people inside the casino is a passing shower.
“Sometimes if there’s a little bit of rain, not a rainout, that helps; when they’re there in the seats, so they come in for a while and then go out again,” he said.
Email Doug Denison at firstname.lastname@example.org.