It was on September 2, 2007, that a stable of relatively unknown equines took to Presque Isle Downs’ 1 mile synthetic oval for the first time. And while the winners and losers of the day have all but been forgotten, the legacy of that historical inaugural meet will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of Erie’s gambling faithful.
Featuring a population of hardly 100,000, Erie is situated on the cusp of the Great Lake in which it’s named for. Once a bustling center of the industry, the automobile age saw many of Erie’s residents depart for the more urbanized New York City, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Since the mass exodus of the 1970s, it’s not uncommon for residents of the area to refer to it as “Dreary Erie.”
But Erie’s sparse population hardly deterred the MTR Gaming Group from applying for a casino license with the PA Gaming Control Board. One can presume that MTR’s goal was to be at the forefront of Erie’s revival.
In anticipation of its license, the aggressive MTR started construction on the new Presque Isle Downs in late-2005. Fast forward to February 2007 – a mere three months after the company was authorized to conduct operations in December 2006 – and the flashing lights of Presque Downs’ casino floor would bring renewed vibrancy to “Dreary Erie.”
Today, Presque Isle Downs is home to over 2,000 machines, a renowned thoroughbred racing schedule and many of the same table games found in PA’s most identifiable casinos. In addition, the casino has facilitated the growth of Erie’s fledgling economy, particularly in the area of tourism.
Presque Isle Downs: Big city Action Meets Hometown Hospitality
Located in the northwestern most county of Pennsylvania and banked by Lake Erie to the north, Presque Isle Downs is a good two-hours removed from PA’s other gambling facilities.
In fact, the racino’s nearest rivals aren’t located in PA at all, but in the outlying counties of western New York. There, New York’s tribal factions host a cluster of casino resorts.
But Presque Isle Downs holds one distinct advantage over its NY-based competitors, and that’s its premier horse racing facility. On the basis of that distinction alone, “the little racino that could” has managed to tread water.
When examined in a vacuum, Presque Downs’ revenues come across as unimpressive. But the story changes once its small size, and hence lower upkeep, are factored into the equation.
In fiscal 2012-13, Presque Isle Downs’ 46 tables generated a comparatively measly $15 million in gross revenue. Its 2,000 slot machines fared significantly better, grossing $138.5 million. That’s about on par with the more recognized and conveniently located Mount Airy Casino in eastern PA.
Unfortunately, Presque Downs has experienced a more pronounced falloff than most other casinos, with year-over-year gross terminal revenue falling 16.7%.
Table Games at Presque Isle Downs
Action aficionados won’t find the most varied selection of table games at Presque Isle Downs, with most fates decided over a BlackJack, Craps or Roulette Table. 3-Card Poker and Let it Ride is also spread with some consistency, while Texas Hold’em Poker, Mississippi Stud and Fortune Pai Gow are mostly considered weekend novelties.
That being said, Presque Isle Downs features a modestly sized poker room, although a glimpse at the Monthly Calendar clearly reveals that the games are tailored towards amateurs. Still, give the casino credit for running a varied selection of tournaments, including NLHE / PLO mixes, Bounties and O8.
Presque Downs’ poker room also hosts a smallish Bad Beat Jackpot, with average payouts hovering around the $25,000 area.
Do note however, that the poker room is not 24/7 and only stays open as long as grinders are still mixing it up on green felt. That, and the facility only consists of a paltry nine tables.
Well, at least poker players will be able to enjoy a majestic view of the casino’s horse racing facilities during the hours they are allowed to play.
MTR Gaming at a Glance
Based in Chester, West Virginia MTR Gaming is a gaming company with a focus on middle-American casino markets. Currently, the corporation owns three facilities including the Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort in Chester and Scioto Downs Racino in Ohio.
Interesting enough, its former properties include Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel in Las Vegas. Sadly, within four years of being acquired from MTR by Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment), the long-standing staple of the strip was shut down, with no plans to reopen.
MTR is publicly traded on the NASDAQ.
The Presque Isle Downs Advantage
Presque Isle Downs’ hosts thoroughbred races on a near-daily basis from May to September. It’s during these lazy summer months that business truly begins to thrive.
The 1 mile oval is unique in that it was the first in the United States to be paved with a synthetic concoction of sand, fiber, rubber and wax – otherwise known as Tapeta Footings.
And while Presque only hosts a handful of notable racing events, it’s the only game in town.
Also noteworthy is the racino’s fine dining establishment: the Sensory 3 Steakhouse. Other eateries include two fast food joints (INCafe and ScoopIN’), the Downs Clubhouse and Lounge and of course a traditional, casino-style buffet – the appropriately named Backstretch Buffet.
Presque Downs’ casino promotions are generally of the average variety, with Blackjack tournaments, free big wheel spins and player incentives hosted on a rotating basis.
Whether this will be enough to prevent Presque from going the way of the dinosaur is yet to be seen, but thus far its done an admirable job of staying relevant in an otherwise “dreary” city.