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Hollywood Park Casino in Inglewood aims to turn around its fortunes with new digs

Construction workers finish gluing carpet this week in the main casino room of the revamped Hollywood Park Casino off of West Century Boulevard in Inglewood.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Hollywood Park Casino opened more than 20 years ago in Inglewood with the hopes of boosting the city’s coffers, creating jobs and spurring development in the working-class community.

Celebrity gamblers such as William Shatner, Jason Alexander and Ben Affleck have been spotted laying down bets at the card club adjacent to the Hollywood Park Racetrack and the Forum arena.

But hard times have fallen on the aging card club since the Los Angeles Lakers abandoned the Forum in 1999, the race track folded in 2013 and competing clubs have doubled down on swanky renovations to draw away the high rollers.

Now, Hollywood Park’s owners hope to turn around the club’s fortunes around with a move to a bigger facility next door designed to draw the wealthy clientele who will be visiting the $1.86-billion pro football stadium scheduled to open in three years in an adjacent multiuse development.

“We’ve lost a lot of customers, but I think we can get them back,” said Deven Kumar, general manager of the Hollywood Park Casino, which is scheduled to open at its new home this fall. “I think Hollywood Park Casino still carries a lot of cachet.”

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The 110,000-square-foot building will be nearly 40% larger, will hold 35 more gaming tables and include a new sit-down restaurant and sports bar, featuring a giant, dual-sided television screen, he said.

We’ve lost a lot of customers, but I think we can get them back.

— Deven Kumar, general manager of Hollywood Park Casino

The existing facilities are more humble: Hungry gamblers looking for a bite must now squeeze into a tiny cafeteria-style eatery to order a microwave-heated sandwich or a pre-made salad.

“The old casino is just that: old,” said Inglewood Mayor James Butts Jr. “It has outlived its time.”

Kumar wouldn’t divulge how much casino owner Stockbridge Capital Group is investing in the new facility, but replacing the old club makes economic sense.

The larger casino will target big-spending football fans visiting the City of Champions Stadium to root on the Rams, the NFL team that has returned to Southern California after more than two decades away.

Hollywood Park Casino also hopes to meet the call of its rivals, such as the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, which launched a $50-million overhaul last year. It added a glitzy 99-room hotel, a fitness center, an outdoor pool deck, a spa and restaurant.

In February, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians also completed a nearly $50 million upgrade of the tribe’s casino in Highland, adding a new, larger high-limit room, an Asian-inspired gaming room and several new eateries and bars.

And it was announced this week that adult entertainment mogul Larry Flynt, who already owns the Hustler Casino in Gardena, bought the Normandie Casino, located less than a mile away.

“Everyone is raising their game,” Kumar said.

The Hollywood Park Casino opened its doors in 1994, near the Forum, home to the NBA Lakers, and the Hollywood Park racetrack.

It was built at a cost of more than $20 million and initially owned by the Hollywood Park Operating Co., which also owned the race track.

The casino has had several owners over the years, including Churchill Downs. The Louisville company, which operates the track where the Kentucky Derby is held, acquired the racetrack and casino complex in 1999.

Stockbridge, a San Francisco land developer, purchased the complex in 2005 for nearly $260 million. It had plans to redevelop the property into housing and shops before the current NFL stadium proposal was adopted.

Stockbridge is in a joint venture with Rams owner Stan Kroenke to build the 300-acre mixed-use complex, which will include the stadium, shops, hotels, homes and two lakes.

Kroenke does not have a stake in the card club, which will be demolished to make way for the larger mixed-use complex.

Before it opened, Inglewood city officials predicted the card club would generate up to $10 million each year for the city, by contributing a share of the casino’s revenues.

Instead, city financial reports show that the card club contributed less than $5 million annually for the first several years after opening before dropping to under $3 million in 2012 and 2013. In the most recent budget report, the city estimated it would receive $3.3 million for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Kumar wouldn’t say how much revenue he expects the new casino to generate but promised a big increase.

“I think we have the potential to double what we have now,” he said.

Butts is hopeful that the football stadium and the adjoining developments will be a revenue boon for Inglewood.

“I believe that the casino will far exceed the wildest expectations for the Carry Grant Pavilion,” the mayor said, referring to the original off-track betting area that was converted into the casino 22 years ago.

Poker players who say Hollywood Park has also been held back by fears over safety and crime in the neighborhood look forward to the casino makeover and the adjacent development.

“I can only imagine how well they will do once the football stadium goes up in that area,” said Nichoel Jurgens, a professional poker player from Long Beach.

The existing casino, which operates 24 hours a day, has a 1940s era, Art Deco feel, with hot pink neon lighting blaring over its entrance. To get to the casino, visitors must climb a small hill from a nearby parking lot. Inside, the casino’s card room is a cavernous space with florescent lighting and pull-down screens to show sporting events. The gamblers sit on what resemble office chairs.

The new casino, to open within hours after the old casino closes, has a modern, clean design, with a large glass entrance and a digital sign at the entrance on West Century Boulevard. A four-story parking structure with 1,600 spots has been built next to the new casino.

Inside, the new casino’s card room will feature 125 tables, chandelier lighting and big-screen televisions on the walls and behind the bar. Separate rooms have been built for high-stakes players and celebrity poker tournaments. The gamblers will sit on brown and cream-colored upholstered counter stools. Only card games are allowed in the casino.

Instead of a cramped cafeteria-type eatery, the new casino will feature a sit-down restaurant and sports bar that can seat 210 people. A coffee outlet that will serve Starbucks or a similar national brand will open near the casino entrance.

“With football coming, we felt we needed to up our offering,” Kumar said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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