New owner, known for rapid growth, is in no hurry to make changes at Rocky Gap casino

MarketsAssociated Press

The new owner of the Rocky Gap Casino Resort in western Maryland is in no hurry to make changes.

Las Vegas-based Golden Entertainment Inc. plans a patient approach to running the 200-room hotel, 18-hole golf course and casino inside Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland, 130 miles west of Baltimore, Chairman Blake Sartini said Monday.

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"Once we feel comfortable and we understand the market a little bit better, I think you'll see us begin to target improvements," possibly starting with food and beverage service, Sartini said in a telephone interview.

A go-slow attitude is uncharacteristic of Sartini. His family company built Nevada's largest chain of slots venues — three casinos, 48 taverns and 670 route locations — in less than 15 years. Route locations are grocery stores, convenience stores and other retail businesses that are allowed under Nevada law to play host to up to 15 slot machines.

Privately held Sartini Gaming Inc. merged Monday with Rocky Gap's previous owner, publicly traded Lakes Entertainment Inc., of Minnetonka, Minnesota. The deal created a new publicly traded company, Golden Entertainment, which now owns all four casinos, the Nevada taverns and slots route, and Big Sky Gaming, a Montana slots-route operator.

Rocky Gap is Maryland's smallest casino, with 577 slot machines, but it's the largest conventional casino in Golden Entertainment's stable. The others are in Pahrump, Nevada.

Sartini foresees growth opportunities in all his company's business lines, including slots routes, also known as "distributed gaming." Maryland currently doesn't allow them, but some other states, including Illinois and Oregon, do, in some form. Sartini said Pennsylvania legislators considered a slots route bill last session.

The Rocky Gap resort produced $28.1 million in net revenues for Lakes Entertainment through the first six months of 2015, up from $26.4 million a year earlier. About 80 percent of that came from gambling.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources said the merger deal won't require changes in resort's 40-year state park lease, signed in 2012.