BANGOR, Maine — It has been almost five years since Donna Alexander last visited what is now Maine’s first full-fledged casino.
“I was in here just once before a few years ago,” said the Alfred resident. “I’m not much for slots. I only played for an hour.”
Even before the official opening day for table games at Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway on Friday, Alexander had spent much more than an hour at the facility the day before.
“We came Thursday and aren’t going home until Sunday, but if these keep stacking up, it might be Monday,” Alexander said, pointing to the stack of casino chips in her hand.
Alexander was lured back to the Bangor gambling facility by the presence of table games, chief among them blackjack. And by most accounts, she was more the rule than the exception among those who turned out on Friday.
“What I keep hearing from folks is they’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said John Osborne, vice president and general manager of Hollywood Casino.
“I met one gentleman in town on business,” Osborne added. “He’s from New Hampshire and comes up here on business frequently, but had never been in here before. When he heard about our table games, he found time to check it out and told me, ‘Now I’ve got something to do between meetings.’”
Apparently some people came in before meetings, as the crowd of almost 50 waiting to enter the casino 15 minutes before the 8 a.m. opening attested.
That number quickly swelled to about 80 — 75 percent to 80 percent capacity — at the table games within an hour.
“They filled up quickly. When you’re at 50 percent capacity at 8:20 in the morning, it’s a great start to the weekend,” Osborne said.
Hollywood had been a slots-only gambling venue since its November 2005 opening at the former Miller’s Restaurant farther down Main Street.
“Usually on a Friday night, we’ll have 500-600 people in the casino,” Osborne said. “I think with the games, we’ll lift that overall number by more than the 100 seats we’ve added for table games, so we could be looking at nighttime counts of 800-900 people.”
Full capacity for the table games is exactly 102, which is the number of seats available at the 14 tables featuring roulette (one), blackjack (six), four-card (one) and three-card (two) poker and Texas Hold ’Em (four).
Steve Gibbs and his son came up from Cherry Hill, N.J., this weekend to visit family in Howland and enjoy what an observer suggested could be called a “vice and ice” weekend.
“That’s good! I think we may have to put that on T-shirts and make it an annual thing,” said Gibbs, who stayed at the Hollywood Casino Hotel on Thursday night. “We came up here to go ice fishing and tried to coordinate it with the opening of poker. The ice is down, but we’ll give it a whirl anyway.”
This was Gibbs’ first trip to any casino north of Connecticut, but he said it won’t be his last.
“I’m doing pretty good. I’m up a couple hundred,” Gibbs said.
Friday marked the end of a long wait, not just for customers who weren’t avid slots players but also the newly hired Hollywood employees who finally got a chance to do the real deal.
“I personally put about 120 hours into learning these games,” said Chas Powell, a roulette, blackjack, three-card poker and four-card poker dealer who commutes to work from Ellsworth. “It felt longer and longer as we were waiting for opening day, so it’s nice to finally be able to do this for real.”
Jean Thayer — a longtime Hermon resident whose son Sean is a harness horse driver, trainer and owner — was excited to be working on opening day.
“I’d never done anything like this before,” Thayer said. “I worked for Hollywood Slots as a program director for live [Bangor Raceway harness] racing and then a teller on a seasonal basis.
“They encouraged us employees to try the [table games training] program and now I’m full-time. I love it.”
Hollywood Casino is open 8 a.m.-3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m.-1 a.m. the rest of the week.