Hamburg Gaming rolled out some improvements Thursday to increase revenue and compete with the Seneca Nation for gamblers.
The 900 chairs and new carpeting may not be enough to attract millennials, but the amenities are the first phase of a planned $7 million renovation that will likely include the elimination of the Midway Buffet and Cyclone Bar, said Robert Puhalski, general manager.
It's the first major upgrade at the $25 million Hamburg Gaming building, which was built in 2010. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2018, said Puhalski.
"The buffet has seen its day. We feel the need to freshen things up," said Puhalski. "We can't bring families into the buffet because access is through the gaming center, and those under age 18 are not allowed to enter."
Phase One of the renovation began in August and was completed in late September, Puhalski said. Dark carpeting was replaced with a robust patterned carpet in shades of red. Gaming chairs were the next to go – all 900 of the dark, heavy and difficult to move chairs. Tall-back red chairs line up now like sentries, row after row, facing the video lottery terminals that draw 2,300 patrons on an average weekday.
In the 12 months that ended March 31, customers played $862 million in wagers on Hamburg Gaming's VLTs, and the facility netted $64 million after paying off winners, according to a New York State Gaming Commission report.
Corey and Robert Kemp of Silver Creek are regulars at Hamburg Gaming. Robert, a retired Walmart manager, said the buffet should have been removed long ago. The Kemps also frequent the Seneca-run casinos in Niagara Falls and downtown Buffalo.
"People here are a lot nicer," Corey said. "We noticed that when we first started here. That's what makes it good."
Hamburg Gaming draws 80 percent of its business from residents of a 12- to 15-mile radius of the gaming center at 5820 South Park Ave. Patrons, in general, are age 55 and older, said Puhalski.
Hamburg Gaming managers are banking on food and beverages to lead the way during the second round of renovations. A brew pub featuring locally brewed craft beer and a gourmet restaurant are among the amenities under consideration. The Midway Buffet and Cyclone Bar may cease operations. but the Blue Ribbon diner will stay, Puhalski said. A new bar will be constructed that will jut out toward the gaming floor.
The stage, where a band routinely performed on Friday and Saturday nights, will be moved toward the back of the gaming floor. Its former location in the bar area on the gaming floor drew complaints of noise and caused managers to carry sound meters to monitor decibel levels, said Puhalski.
Hamburg Gaming employs 280 people with more expected employees added after the renovations are complete, said Puhalski.
Puhalski said he hopes a new lighting scheme will help brighten up the gaming floor. An atrium is also possible.
"Back in the day, none of the casinos had windows," said Puhalski, who worked at casinos in Atlantic City, Shreveport, La. and outside Palm Springs, Ca. "They kept you hidden away in the dark. Now we want everything light and airy."
When Hamburg Fairgrounds Gaming & Raceway opened its doors in March 2004, people waited in line to enter the gaming floor located underneath the adjacent raceway grandstand. It generated a buzz that generated $1 million dollars in earnings during its first six days of operations.
Hamburg Gaming is in a 55,000 square foot building owned by the Erie County Agricultural Society and managed by Delaware North, a hospitality and food service provider that manages entertainment venues around the world.
"This is a highly competitive business, and we are at a distinct disadvantage," said Puhalski. "We can't have table games. We can't have smoking. We can't even call it a casino, even though we were one when we opened."
In 2010 the Seneca Nation objected to the state’s expansion of casino gaming to racetracks in its exclusive area. The dispute was settled in 2013 when the state admitted it had wrongfully promoted casinos at the Hamburg, Batavia and Canandaigua racetracks and allowed the Senecas to keep $200 million of the slot machine revenues that they would have been required to share with the state.
In March of this year, the Seneca Nation halted its slot machine revenue sharing with New York again, stating that it was not required to make payments after the 14th year of its compact with the state. The dispute over about $100 million a year in payments is now headed to arbitration.