Jim Arnold – PENN Entertainment
Casinos are unique facilities, not because of all the lights and sounds—but because neither ever stops.
Before stepping into the world of flashing lights, pinging slot machines and spinning roulette tables, Jim Arnold had already racked up nearly three decades in the construction and facilities management industry. In July 2022, he became the executive director of facilities for Penn Entertainment—and discovered the true meaning of “round-the-clock.”
“It’s something I knew on an intellectual level, of course, but it wasn’t until I joined Penn that I fully realized all the ramifications and consequences of things literally running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every week, throughout the year,” he says.
Among these things are lights. Penn Entertainment owns and operates 44 casinos, each boasting a distinctive flair, helped often by the lights near the machines, on the floors, in the ceilings, outdoors and throughout the building.
These thousands of fluorescent and incandescent bulbs create a fun, vibrant atmosphere—but generate a lot of heat, which isn’t the best for the environment. They also boost costs for Penn to keep them running while maintaining a comfortable temperature for visitors.
At the Hollywood Casino Toledo in Ohio, Arnold and his team are switching over to LED lights. A 7-watt LED bulb is able to produce light equivalent to a 14-watt fluorescent or 60-watt incandescent bulb. LED lights can last up to 100,000 hours versus the approximately 10,000 for fluorescents and the abysmal 1,000 for an incandescent.
That’s less time he and his team spend changing bulbs. With the thousands of lights in and outside of the Hollywood Casino—the only one he oversees—he expects this transition to take up to 36 months. He’s relying heavily on his electrical contractors to provide engineered insight for the best replacement fixtures and lights.
“It’ll make a drastic change across the board without the casino-goers having to sacrifice any of their experience,” Arnold says. “It’s also just one of the many steps my team and I are taking to make technology work for us.”
Placing a bet on technology
Lights are front and center, but Arnold and his team pay equal attention to matters behind the scenes. He’s responsible for every heater and boiler, life safe systems which include strobes, speakers and fire suppression systems. He’s also overseeing Hollywood Casino’s five restaurants, including the kitchen equipment, walk-in coolers, freezers and exhaust hoods.
He is focused on technology and how these systems will improve efficiency and create a safe environment for staff and visitors. So, his sights are set on upgrading the casino, which opened in 2012. In 2010, the Ohio-based construction firm Rudolph Libbe started the design-build project on the 285,000-square-foot facility and, within two years, completed everything from outdoor gaming and restaurants to live gaming and parking areas.
It was one of the single largest contracts in the construction firm’s history. In addition to customer-facing features, the firm installed energy-efficient fixtures and special insulating features saving over 5 million kilowatts in electricity and reducing water usage by 2 million gallons.
To make the casino more efficient, Arnold turned to Rudolph Libbe Group’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning services contractor, GEM Service to implement a controls automation project. This will make it possible for casino staff to remotely monitor all aspects of the building, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning as well as boilers, lighting and the fire system.
“This kind of technological upgrade requires consideration of the return on investment because of the initial cost, so it was initially a tough sell,” he recalls.
He explained to executives and leadership why this was a worthwhile investment. He gave them an example of an issue that arose on Christmas Day, something that didn’t impact customers but did require him to rush into the casino to resolve.
He received their approval in February 2023. Initial migration to the new automation system will be completed by August 2023, with full facility integration within a year after that. Once the implementation is complete, it will enhance the customer experience and significantly reduce staff hours spent on these matters. With support from GEM services, Arnold will be able to manage and maintain the systems and equipment remotely online.
“Being able to remotely monitor systems will allow the facilities personnel to respond quicker and more accurately to the situation—and we’re all looking forward to this upgrade,” Arnold says.
Rolling the dice for a more efficient future
Arnold’s aim is to create a casino that “sits at the intersection of technology and human capital,” he says. When team members and technology work together, like remotely being able to manage the lights and temperatures, the building can run more efficiently for decades to come. To accomplish this goal, he’s ensuring his plans and ideas synchronize with those of Penn’s executive leadership.
“Fortunately, we’re all on the same page,” Arnold says. “They understand that the best customer experience isn’t shaped just through having shiny lights and fun slot machines but a fully functioning, intelligent facility that is user friendly for the staff and guests—and quiet, so no flushing toilets or the like.”
He also believes such a facility will help him and his team move Penn towards better battery backup systems. With casinos running non-stop and people coming in and out at all hours, electrical failures are simply not an option.
“I’m a strong proponent for technology, especially in an entertainment setting like this, where it can enhance customer experience but also reduce costs, help the environment and reduce the burden on staff, including me and my team,” Arnold says.
An Ace of a life
Arnold estimates he needs another year to get a better idea of where and how Penn needs to invest.
“I’m currently surveying and understanding every nook and cranny of Hollywood Casino Toledo, and I’m not rushing,” he says.
Being thorough was ingrained in him many decades ago. Before he became a master mason with M.E. Masonry in 1995, he’d already spent over half a decade with the U.S. Navy.
From 1988 to 1994, Arnold was a nuclear submariner. He handled account management and was a technician for the ballistic missile submarines support systems. He was also an electronic, hydraulic and pneumatic missile launch systems specialist.
From 2016 to 2022, he managed facilities support on a foreign military installation in Pakistan where the self-proclaimed foodie got to treat his palate to new tastes. Even now, he enjoys working directly with Penn’s food and beverage staff and introduced the farm-to-table garden concept that will launch in 2023.
As for construction, his roots go back even further. His father owned a plumbing company, and his stepfather was a woodworker and career military man; he credits them for his path to becoming a disciplined, detail-oriented person.
“I’ve always loved the construction industry and now where it intersects with entertainment, because things are changing rapidly, sometimes daily,” Arnold says. “Penn was the perfect fit for me because I’m a high energy person and this environment is very much my cup of tea.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IV 2023 Edition here.
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