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The Penn Player

Tim Wilmott, President and Chief Operating Officer, Penn National Gaming

The Penn Player

When Tim Wilmott became president and COO of Penn National Gaming in early 2008 after a career with Harrah’s Entertainment, it was clear that Penn Chairman Peter M. Carlino had a goal in mind.

With Wilmott, Carlino said, the company “will be strongly positioned to extend our success with our current property portfolio, planned expansion projects and recent acquisitions.”

And that certainly has occurred. Since Wilmott came aboard, Penn has gone through a remarkable expansion in different jurisdictions making it the third-largest gaming company in the U.S. In addition, Wilmott has directed a branding campaign to make Penn’s Hollywood casinos among the most recognizable of casino names.

Penn National now owns and/or operates 23 facilities in 16 jurisdictions. The company last year won a referendum that allows it to build two casinos in Ohio, in Toledo and Columbus. Ground has already been broken for the Toledo facility and the Columbus casino will get started this year. Penn opened Maryland’s first casino in Perryville last year, and is building a casino in a joint venture at Kansas Speedway outside of Kansas City.         

The company recently purchased the debt on the M Resort in Las Vegas, the company’s first Nevada property. Wilmott says the deal the company got could not be passed up.

“Long term, it’s going to be a very good transaction for our shareholders,” he says. “We recognize that it’s a ‘locals’ property which is struggling in the current marketplace, but we’re going to use our 12 million-name database from our other properties and try to give them reasons to come stay at the M. This should improve the quality of customer in the hotel rooms.”

With a relatively young company, Wilmott has tried to build a corporate culture and an operating platform that is unique to Penn.

“We want this to be consistent across all of our businesses,” he explains, “so we can help our operators learn from our other properties and give them tools from the corporate center to help them compete more effectively. That’s what I’ve tried to spend the bulk of my two and a half years at Penn doing. What I don’t want to do is get too heavy at the center of the company. We’ve been very rigorous in making sure we stay lean. We think we have a platform that can support up to 35 properties.”

The Hollywood brand is growing in importance as well. The properties in Lawrenceburg, Indiana; Charlestown, West Virgina; and Joliet, Illinois have recently been rebranded as Hollywood casinos.

“It’s a very strong, recognizable brand and, by the end of next year, 13 of our 21 properties will be branded as Hollywood,” he says.

Wilmott has built and reshaped his management team so that the strategies and goals of the company are consistent.

“The team works very well together,” he says. “It’s a high-functioning, high-quality group of people, but it’s relatively small. We only have about 120 people in our corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania. For a company with $2.5 billion in sales and 17 properties, not to mention being the largest parimutuel operator in the United States, that’s not too bad.”

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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