Hollywood Slots has become Maine's only commercial establishment to offer video poker, marking what could be the first of other new games of chance at the Main Street racing casino. Its owner, Penn National Gaming Inc., notified state officials last week of the plan to add the game to 10 machines in response to customer requests. "It's doing well, the games are busy," Hollywood Slots General Manager Jon Johnson said Thursday. State law permits Hollywood Slots to operate video poker and any other game of chance on its 450 machines, with some limits, so games such as blackjack could be on the way soon. When the state's racino law was signed in 2001, it legalized operation of slot machines that are more versatile than the traditional one-armed bandits. The newer machines can be programmed to run a variety of games of chance, either through insertion of a microchip or by directly downloading the games into each machine's hard drive.
The law defines a slot machine as any device that returns a payoff, including cash or credits, to a player who inserts money or a token to play a game of chance. To operate legally, the machine must be independently tested, then hooked into a central monitoring system. "As long as the game runs on a slot machine that can be monitored by the state of Maine's central monitoring system, it qualifies as a slot machine," Johnson said. State officials were aware from the beginning that Hollywood Slots might choose to expand its gaming repertoire, Bob Welch, executive director of the Maine Gambling Control Board, said Wednesday.
In fact, Hollywood Slots also offered keno, a numbers lottery game, when it opened in November, he said. One major stipulation is that all games must provide an annual average return to players of at least 89 percent, Welch said. Local officials also knew of the possible addition of games, City Solicitor Norman Heitmann said Thursday. "The city anticipated that what was going to be allowed under the slots law, Hollywood Slots would do" in response to customer demand, he said. Video poker that gives the player a payoff had been illegal in Maine before the 2004 signing of a state law which allows commercial tracks to operate slot machines. Nonprofit groups, such as fraternal organizations, can offer the game only for amusement or as a fundraiser. The video poker games at Hollywood Slots are available in 25 cent and $1 denominations. The game will be added to more machines if it proves popular with customers, Johnson said. As for additional games at the facility, Hollywood Slots has no specific plans but is keeping the door open, he said. "We would offer games based on a demand," Johnson said.