BANGOR (AP) -The slots parlor that set up shop nearly three years ago in a converted restaurant begins its move up the street to grander quarters this weekend as one of the state’s largest development projects in recent years nears completion.

The price tag for Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway has ballooned from an initial estimate of $70 million to $132 million, a figure that includes the gambling facility, a 1,500-space parking garage and a 154-room hotel.

“We just kept adding to it and adding to it,” said Jon Johnson, general manager of the complex that will open to the public on Tuesday. The racino will close early on Sunday for the move that will be completed the next day in time for an invitation-only grand opening celebration Monday night.

The Art Deco-style complex covers eight acres on a site that had housed a Holiday Inn and a smaller motel. Built close to the street, it gives a downtown flavor and an economic development kick-start to an area dominated by Bass Park, the Bangor Civic Center and the landmark statue of Paul Bunyan.

Maine’s only slots facility is authorized to have 1,500 slot machines but will begin operation with 1,000. They include 525 new machines and 475 that have been in use at the temporary gaming parlor in the former Miller’s Restaurant; those will be moved across Main Street, about a quarter-mile away.

Johnson said patronage at the temporary site in a nondescript building that offered few amenities exceeded projections and attracted roughly 2 million players since it opened its doors in November 2005. Hollywood Slots owner, Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., is confident that the larger, more luxurious facility will also be a success.

Even in an economic slowdown, Johnson believes Hollywood Slots will thrive, in part because more people from a wider area will be drawn to its improved ambiance and personal service that go well beyond that of the small facility.

“It was a real locals’ racino,” said Johnson, noting that more than 90 percent of the players were from Maine. The new facility, like the old one, will accept bets ranging from one cent to $10.

The new incarnation features a 250-seat restaurant that offers what’s billed as the largest buffet in Maine, a separate snack bar, a gift shop and a stage that will feature live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights and large-screen music and sports videos at other times. The complex will be equipped with 400 security cameras.

Johnson said demographic studies indicate that a high percentage of players are in the 45 to 70 age group, with higher than average incomes and somewhat more women than men.

The new slots facility will be open for longer hours than the one it replaces: from 8 a.m. until 4 a.m., with a noon opening on Sundays. In accordance with state law, it will close on Christmas and Easter.

A goal is to attract players who would otherwise travel to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and to lure Canadians looking to spend their strengthened currency at entertainment venues on this side of the border. With a higher profile, the new complex is also more likely to gain the attention of vacationers who pass through Bangor en route to Bar Harbor and the Maine coast.

The architecture and ornamental touches, including hand-painted, pre-cast columns, reflect the Hollywood theme that Penn National has adopted for its new properties since it acquired Hollywood Casino Corp. in 2003.

Perched above the area leading from the gaming floor to the hotel are oversized black-and-white portraits of screen legends Charles Boyer, Norma Shearer, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ann Sheridan and Francis Ford.

“It was all meant to exude the flavor of 1920s and 1930s Hollywood glamour, and I think we’ve achieved it pretty well,” Johnson said. Although the gaming floor is ablaze with the slot machines’ bright colors, the building’s exterior lacks the large, flashing neon signage often found outside casinos.

“We weren’t trying to look like a Las Vegas casino that would be planted into the middle of Maine,” Johnson said.

The project has been a bonanza for Bangor, a city of 31,000 that is the commercial hub for vast areas of northern and eastern Maine. In addition to 300 temporary construction jobs, the complex will employ a permanent work force of more than 500 and is expected to provide the city with roughly $3 million a year from slots revenue and $2 million more in property taxes.

City Manager Ed Barrett said the casino is helping to fuel a development boom that could include a waterfront park along the Penobscot River and the replacement of the aging Bangor Auditorium with a new arena and convention center.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. Casinos No!, a statewide group that has battled casino development in Maine, said gambling doesn’t draw new money into the economy and opens the door to such problems as crime and gambling addiction.

“People are dazzled by it all, the dollar signs, the activity, the initial construction jobs and everything,” said spokesman Dennis Bailey. “But studies show that most of the problems associated with casinos surface within three to five years after these things open. The jury’s still out for people to say how good or bad it is.”

Bailey points to a handful of incidents, including the case of a convenience store manager who embezzled $23,000 and lost it all at Hollywood Slots. But Barrett said police have seen few gambling-related problems. George McHale, chairman of the Maine Gambling Control Board, said Penn National has complied with all state regulations and no violations have come before the board.

A voter-approved referendum in 2003 set the stage for the arrival of slots in Maine. The measure permitted up to 1,500 machines at commercial harness-racing tracks in Bangor and Scarborough, but only in Bangor did it win local approval.

Hollywood Slots is across the street from the 115-year-old Bass Park, home to Bangor Raceway. Johnson said a plan to offer simulcast horse race betting at the new slots facility was dropped because it didn’t make financial sense.

The seven-story hotel, which is attached to the racino and parking garage, is expected to open later this summer.

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AP-ES-06-27-08 1116EDT

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