Penn National Gears up for Maine's First Slots Facility

BANGOR -- Penn National Gaming Inc., the Pennsylvania-based company gearing up to transform Miller's Restaurant into the state's first slots facility, has named a general manager for its operations in Maine.

Jon Johnson, 52, said he is looking forward to his next professional challenge and that he and his family plan to relocate from Mississippi in June.

"This new appointment is a very exciting opportunity," Johnson said Wednesday during a visit to Bangor, where he has been since Monday.

"I look forward to bringing my family [to Maine] and becoming a part of the local business community, and helping make Penn National's gaming facility a success. I would just like people to know that I'm thrilled to be coming here," he said. "It's a people business. That's really what it is," Johnson said of the gambling industry. "It's always a challenge. It's always new and you get to interact with all kinds of people.

Johnson is assistant general manager at Penn National's Hollywood Casino in Tunica, Miss., a position he has held since November 2004. That operation is much larger than the one proposed for Bangor. The Mississippi facility includes a 500-room resort featuring 1,600 slot machines, 31 table games and poker, among other things

As head of Penn National's Bangor operation, Johnson will oversee the temporary slots facility that the company is developing at Miller's on Main Street and the company's harness-racing program at Bangor Raceway, where the off-track betting facilities now at Miller's will go. He also will be responsible for the larger permanent facility in Bangor, once it is developed.

The appointment is subject to a state-mandated background check and approval by the Maine Gambling Control Board. Johnson will be formally introduced to state regulators today during a gambling control board meeting in Augusta.

Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that he has his work cut out for him. For starters, he will be involved in helping to get the project over regulatory hurdles, at state and city levels.

"The particular challenge I see is going to be the hiring and training and going through the approval process," he said. "That's a large challenge everywhere," not just in states new to gaming.

Johnson, however, said he has heard about Maine's strong work ethic from other Penn executives and has seen some proof in the detailed cleaning efforts of the staff at his Bangor hotel as well as at other area businesses.

A native of Gary, Ind., and a graduate of the University of Las Vegas, Johnson has 28 years of gaming industry experience. During the course of his career, he has worked at some of the nation's premier gaming facilities, Caesar's Palace and Park Place Entertainment among them. He has held a number of key positions, including internal auditor, senior accountant, casino controller, vice president of finance and chief financial officer.

"Jon has built a solid reputation as a talented and dedicated executive, and we have been very impressed by his performance at Hollywood Casino. He is a natural choice to lead our new enterprise in Maine," Kevin DeSanctis, Penn's president and chief operating officer, stated in a news release issued Wednesday. "I know Jon is anxious to undertake this move and get to know and become part of the Greater Bangor community in the coming months."

On Wednesday, it was clear that Johnson isn't wasting any time in that respect.

Johnson already is buying a home. He, along with his wife, Cherie, and their five children, will live in a house now under construction in Hermon. Though Cherie Johnson wasn't able to visit Maine this week, she helped choose the home through digital photos taken here and e-mailed to the family's home in the South.

"One of my marching orders from my better half was to find a place where we could have horses," Johnson said, adding that his wife grew up around horses but that the family has never lived in a horse-friendly place.

He also is starting to acclimate himself to Greater Bangor. He has met some city officials, including council Chairman Frank Farrington, one of the local people with whom he had dinner Wednesday night.

He already knows, for example, that one says "Bang-gore" and not "BANG-er" when referring to the Queen City and that "wicked" has an entirely different meaning in this part of the country.

And yes, he has done a drive-by of the home of one of the city's best-known residents, author Stephen King, during a windshield tour of the area with a driver from his Odlin Road hotel.

"My wife is a huge fan of Stephen King's," he said.