BANGOR, Maine — Jose Flores started his career in the gambling industry 20 years ago at his hometown casino in Joliet, Ill. He was an 18-year-old prep cook, the lowest-level culinary job at the facility.
He got yelled at on his first day for cutting the chicken into inconsistent chunks.
Two decades and many promotions later, Penn National Gaming has shipped Flores to Bangor, placing him at the helm of Hollywood Casino.
The previous general manager, John Osborne, retired last month after five years running the Bangor facility.
Flores’ first day was March 3, he’s spent most of the days since learning the ins and outs of how Bangor’s Hollywood Casino operates and feeling out the waters of Maine’s gambling industry.
“Right now, I’m just really trying to take it all in,” Flores said.
Flores comes to Maine by way of another Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia — a much larger facility with seven restaurants, nearly 100 table games, 3,200 slot machines and a thoroughbred racing facility. By comparison, its sister casino in Bangor has a harness racing track, nearly 900 slot machines and 16 table games.
He was assistant general manager in Charles Town for nearly three years. Prior to that, he spend 17 years at the Joliet facility, working his way from prep cook through the culinary ranks, ultimately leading the casino’s non-gaming operations. He also held roles overseeing the hotel, valet services, security and more.
Flores steps into a dynamic Maine industry, with a pair of relatively new casinos scrambling for their share of gamers and other groups — including Maine tribes and Scarborough Downs — who want to step in with new gambling endeavors of their own.
His predecessor spent time in Augusta on many occasions when gaming bills went before state lawmakers, lobbying against gambling expansion on behalf of Penn National. Flores said that duty likely will fall to him now.
The message of both Penn National and its competitor the the south, Churchill Downs’ Oxford Casino, has been that Maine doesn’t have the demand to sustain more gambling, so further gaming would “cannibalize” the fledgling industry. They say thorough study of supply and demand is needed before bringing in more.
Casinos planned for New Hampshire and Massachusetts have Maine’s casinos concerned about a further dip in patronage.
After Oxford Casino opened, Hollywood Slots saw a dramatic dip in revenue it had drawn from Augusta south.
Hollywood Casino netted $54.7 million in gambling revenue in 2013, a big drop from the previous year’s take of about $63 million, the best annual take the casino has seen. But 2013 was Oxford Casino’s first full year, and it took in $71.6 million. That success likely contributed to the smaller revenue at Hollywood.
Flores likely will be active in these discussions as he learns more about the industry and gambling climate in Maine.
He said Hollywood has a strong position and will see good opportunities with the Cross Insurance Center across the street and the growing Waterfront Concerts Series just down Main Street.
“The facility is still well-positioned,” Flores said. “It’s a very nice facility. We have a great commitment to customer service. The table games product is new here and people are still getting acclimated to that. We have a lot of good things to offer.”
Flores’ wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 8, stayed behind in West Virginia to finish out the school year. They plan on moving to a home in Hampden in June. The girls play soccer and will be looking for opportunities to play year-round, he said.
Asked what his first impressions of Bangor were, Flores said, “It’s cold.” Flores said he would continue to learn the ropes and looks forward to learning more about the community. He likes the “historic charm” of Bangor’s downtown and says he sees an “infusion of energy” in the city.
“[The people] seem very genuine, very friendly,” he said.